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Home Is Where The Heart Is

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To Lance, Home was his everything.

Altea was his Home, where he lived an innocent and free life with his family and his friends. Days were filled with endless play and laughter, returning home to his parents’ warmth when the sun set beyond the mountains and the stars would light the skies.
He had naught for want; all he ever desired was his, content with the promising future that lay before him, his to decide, his to strive towards and make his family proud.
He was another then. A child, with simple childish dreams to see the smiles upon his Mother’s face, to feel the touch of his Father’s hand ruffling his hair, to hear his sister’s praises. He only wanted to make them proud.

But the simplicity of Lance’s dreams was stolen from him; home snatched away from him, all too soon.

For it was a monster that descended upon his home.
With thunder and fire and screams that filled the once peaceful paradise and warped it into that of a nightmare. For Lance, that was all it could be. No horror had befallen him like this before, so how could it possibly be real?

And yet it was; real and a nightmare all at once.
A blessing, perhaps, when stood before a pure mind, pure enough that it saved itself from being torn apart as it took itself away from the screams, the heat of flames that engulfed his Home until there was nothing left.
Nothing left but his own fear and panic that pulled him down into darkness, deeper than sleep where the monsters still lurked to haunt him whenever he dared to close his eyes.

A nightmare, she called it.
A nightmare that he would wake from, still screaming, still crying, blindly reaching out for solace from the fangs that gripped his body tight, from the heat that burnt his flesh until he was nothing but bone and dust.

But no, the fire couldn’t hurt him. Because she was there. She, who came for him with warmth and love, to pull him into her arms and whisper to her child that he was safe now, she was there, he was safe.

She wasn’t his mother.

She was not his kind. Not Altean, but Human. The woman, who looked similar to him in appearance, with a warm smile, just like his Mother’s, and kind eyes like his Father’s.
She had found him; her and her husband. They had found Lance in a spacecraft, small and badly damaged from the fall to Earth, washed ashore to their private little beach on which they lived, where the weather-worn wood of their porch and little padded sunchair overlooked the ocean.
It is where they had been sat, two together, watching a star fall from the heavens, into the ocean and there, he had lain, gently swathed in the wrappings of a cloth as blue as the petals beneath his eyes.

“My fallen star,” she called him, every time he asked to hear that story, listening to her words with childish glee, his nightmare forgotten as the tale twisted its lullaby around him and settled him back to the comforts of sleep, curled in her arms.
Not his mother by birth, but his mother all the same. She found him and she saved him. She took him in as her own.

Lance found a new Home. On Earth, with his new parents and his new siblings that welcomed him with arms open wide. Despite what should’ve been, they were like him in many ways; with their cheeky laughter, and his name that fell so lightly from their lips as they called him to play.

All too soon the memories of Altea were replaced by the boy’s imagination; his memories distorted through filter lens so that he only remembered Earth. Altea became a dream, and the Galra War only haunted him in his nightmares. It wasn’t long, until all of that was forgotten too.
But not everything bowed to the test of time.
It didn’t matter if Lance was the only one in his family to have matching birthmarks on either side of his face, or that they sometimes glowed when his emotions got the better of him. Because Mamá told him they made him special, and he didn’t mind them.

Others minded however. They didn’t like it when he wore them proudly and they didn’t like it when he covered them up.
Adults didn’t like that he would wear his mother’s make up. The older boys had special names they would call him. Some would give him tattoos of their own, hard enough that his skin would be bruised for days and his Mamá would cry when she saw.

But those that knew would hurt him more: children who knew of the weird secret of his skin, who would poke and prod Lance and remind him that he was different. That would tell him that he wasn’t really a part of his family, that he hadn’t been wanted by those that birthed him and instead had been dumped in the sea to be nothing more than a secret that the sea would swallow whole.

They didn’t believe him when he told them he was a fallen star, only laughing at him for thinking himself special.

Lance didn’t want to listen, didn’t want to believe them. He didn’t.
It’s just… he hated the feeling their hurtful words would bring; the reminder that there was only a thinly veiled line that stood between him and his family. Sometimes, he could weather the pain when it was only small pricks underneath his skin, and he could look upon the family he chose for himself and be happy.

But sometimes the storm clouds would not move.
And he’d look upon his family, not with pride, but a sense of unsettled something deep in his gut.

They weren’t really family. He wasn’t born to them, so how could he ever hope to be more than a guest to them.
And that was a thought that he could never rid his mind of.

Where was his real home?
Where was he meant to belong?

As Lance grew older, he built up his walls.
He put on a mask and became a son to be proud of, adopted or not. He ignored the taunts and the teasing, he learned to use his smile, learned the charm of words and the way people thought; their need for social approval. Everyone wanted praise, everyone wanted someone to remind them of their wit and charm. Lance was the puppy at their heels and they loved him for it.

Then came the Garrison. Surprising even himself, Lance had risen to the top of his class. He remembered when he told his Mamá and saw her smile, felt the press of his Papa’s hand ruffle his hair, listen to the praises from his brothers and sisters alike. He had made them proud, but he could do more.

So, he worked harder. And harder still.
His scores improved; his skills improved. He impressed his peers and those that monitored the Cadet’s progression. Lance continued forwards. He got into the piloting class, okay by a technicality but who cares, not Lance, nope, because he’s one step closer to making his family proud of him.

But that hope was snatched away from him too.

Space was another of Lance’s dream: piloting through the stars, a pilot for the Garrison, making his family proud as he said he would.
He told his Mamá her fallen star would return to the sky, that he’d find her something truly amazing. He’d find her a real star and bring it back home. To her.

But Lance can’t go home.
He can’t take Mamá her star. He can’t make his family proud if they don’t know where he is.
They don’t know that he’s billions and billions of miles away, sat in the cockpit of a giant alien warship with his classmates and (up until recently) the missing hero that had inspired him to strive towards this goal and not another.
His family don’t know that he has met an Alien Princess, who bears the same marks as him, the ones that he had already learnt to hide, to stop the teasing remarks. Petals of colour that look uglier and uglier with every passing day that he sees in the mirror.

Lance’s family don’t know that their son, their brother, is a soldier fighting in a war: The Blue Paladin of Voltron, standing against the tyranny that is the Galra Empire; a despicable race of Aliens that want nothing but the domination of the entire Universe.

Lance has a new family now.

He has Pidge; someone who considers him her brother as much she his little sister. They compete against each other in video games, or they hang out in her lab, Lance ready to help her with her gizmos and numbers and stuff. She’ll listen to him ramble about Earth and they’ll paint their toenails and watch kid’s movies when they’re meant to be sleeping. He’ll tell her about his family on Earth and she’ll tell him about Matt and her Dad in space.
That’s why she’s out here. That’s why she hasn’t gone home. She’s searching for her missing family.
To make whole what is broken.

Then there’s Hunk; the big lug that is all heart, cotton candy smiles and a warmth that is incomparable to any mother’s love. He cooks all of Lance’s favourite snacks, even without the boy asking him. He may be sweet as sugar cane, but in secret, he’s a prankster at heart, and usually it’s not him, but Lance who gets blamed for the mischief they like to pull on their unsuspecting teammates, like that time when they reversed the gravity in the training room, or when they mixed dye with Coran’s moustache shampoo, (it took two whole weeks for the purple to fade).
Ultimately, the two boys have a lot of fun together.
They’re as close as brothers and the best of friends. Lance couldn’t ask for anyone else to be tossed into space with.

And of course, there’s Shiro. He’s the Castle’s resident Space Dad as well as Lance’s go to man for advice. Not just because he’s older, but the man is level-headed and has had a lot more experience than any of the younger team when it comes to the crushing weight of anxiety from being flung into space and not knowing anything…

Anywho, Lance enjoys spending time together with him, most often the two of them meeting in the training hall, sparring and testing their fighting capabilities. Shiro, serious as ever wants them to be ready for battle, but the Blue Paladin is just happy to spend time with his childhood hero. Besides, it’s not that bad to work up a sweat if it means he can sleep for more than three hours.
And yet he can see the strain it puts on the Soldier that’s spent too long fighting for his life in the Gladiator’s Ring. Lance is there when Shiro wants to talk about it, and there when the man just wants to sit in silence instead.
Lance understands. The boy suffers from his own nightmares as well.

The rest of Lance’s new family are unexpected.
For a start, they’re both aliens.

There is Coran, who is as much a weird space uncle as he is a second father to all of the team. He’s stern when Lance pushes the boundaries and a shoulder for the boy when Lance is feeling homesick. Sometimes he joins in on the pranks and other times he is the one who gets the last laugh.

And then there was Allura.
She was beautiful and kind, and polite enough that Lance could hold conversation with the Princess, concerning the future of the war, and the possibility of gaining allies after freeing them from the Galra’s control. Their conversations were always business, always with a particular avoidance when it came to anything personal.
Lance, of course didn’t pry, he didn’t push where he knew his focus wasn’t wanted, but he couldn’t shake the disappointment at each of her dismissals; kind yet firm, as she draws the line she does not want him to cross.
Allura reminded him of his older sister back on Earth. And maybe Lance was searching for familiarity or maybe he was just trying to build a bond with the Space Princess to help fill the small void in his chest, so that when she did turn her cheek, it hurt more than he liked to admit.

Lance had a new family now.
And yet, he feels more alone than ever.

Every day he would question himself, questioning what he knew, why he was here, if it even mattered if he wasn’t. His worth wasn’t all that much to the team, he knew that, and knew the risk of deluding himself otherwise.
He was always alone, one way or another. Even when surrounded in the mess hall as they ate meals together, or when they were side by side running through familiar training drills, Lance always felt alone. And scared and worried for their uncertain future.

He couldn’t tell the others of his fears. He didn’t want to appear weak to them, didn’t want them to think that he was incapable of being the Blue Paladin.

Day by day, the constant questioning of his own self-worth grew, stronger and stronger until it manifested itself into paralysing fears. It was black-tar that clung to his skin, clung to his mind, making it hard to think, harder to push through the heaviness that dragged him down, heavier than before. Almost too heavy to bare.

They were still searching for the Red Lion.

It’s been months since Blue took them far from Earth, into Space and into the unknown. Blue had taken them to Arus, to the Castle and the last surviving Alteans. But she had also taken them into war, into the jaws of a beast of which there was no escape. Only the option to stand and fight before they were consumed by the madness of it all.

It’s been weeks since the attack on the Castle, Sendak long since been thrown to space, the light of Arus’ star just another in the expanse of everything around them.
The Paladins were finally settling into a routine of living life in the vastness of the ever-expanding galaxy.

It has been hard, without the Red Lion and the inability to form Voltron when battles raged around them, when the Galra came with intent to destroy. With the intent to kill.

But despite their efforts, the team have won many victories, outwitting their foe across vast territories. Sure, there were some close calls, and some battles in which Lance feared would be their last. But they had been victorious, and all of them were stronger for it.
Or at least they’re supposed to be.

Lance knows Hunk is. After all, the big guy is over his fear of heights. He no longer second-guesses his decisions, now trusting the team to have his back where his confidence lacks.
Pidge has come out of her shell; boisterous and loud, with as much energy as the ship’s main core reactor and a temper just as hot. But she works hard when the team are sparring, smiling more, knowing that she’s much closer to finding Matt and her Dad with each day that passes.
Even Shiro’s improved, even if no one thought that man had room too. He’s become more confident in leading now, quicker to make orders than uncertain suggestions. He isn’t just their peer; he is their leader. He is quick to take charge, confident to issue orders when the Galra attack, and keeps a level head on the battlefield, despite the demons that still haunt him.

Everyone was stronger.

Everyone except for Lance.

It feels like, instead of growing with the team, he’s falling further and further behind. He can’t keep track of the days in space, there’s no difference between day or night for him, when all that stands beyond the windows are space and stars and an endless expanse of nothing.
All that separates one meal and the next is a visit to a planet, a fight with the Galra or a trip in the cryo-chamber. There’s no sunrise, no sunset, no breath of fresh air that’s not chemically cleaned oxygen pumped through the castle’s air ducts.

It’s hard to feel grounded when even the gravity is artificial.

Lance doesn’t notice it at first, but all of a sudden, it’s there:

Nothing.

It’s slow, growing beneath the bitter-ice, the chilling-snow of fear. It’s frostbite in his head, his mind succumbing until it is numb, numb to the endless halls that are his to wonder on sleepless nights, numb to the people who fight alongside him in this endless, unavoidable war.

It is the act of “not feeling” that haunts him. The boy didn't really know how he managed to drag himself out of bed every morning when the nothing in his head steals all thought of existing. It was more of a sense of duty than a want. It is expected of him and he does so, without complaint.
Because who is he to complain, when he stands as the last line of defence for too many in this never-ending war that is slowly draining the boy of his very being.

Now, he is a ghost of his former self; a dreamer who has forgotten how to dream.

Lance used to dream.
He used to dream when he was a child; when Mamá told him stories of her little fallen star, he would dream of space and all the stars in the night sky. All of it, before Lance learnt the name of his heroes, of the names of those that sought that stars like him. Yet they were up there, somewhere, cruising through the endless serene of black.
Lance wanted to be one of them, to be an explorer who would glide across the night sky. No longer her “little fallen star,” but Mamá’s shooting star, that blazoned the night sky with brilliant light, as he carved the path to new discoveries in the great wide out-there.

Would he find adventure? Or was there something more something that he couldn’t find on Earth? Was it that sense of belonging he craved,
that even when his family held him close and told him they loved him, it being something he had never found?

Because, no; a sense of belonging, or a place, or even a purpose was not Lance’s to find. The stars showed him the way, but all the boy stumbled upon was more pain, more fears, more questions to add to all those that no one had answered before.

Like Allura, and Coran.

When the boy first saw them, he was shocked. Human, his logical mind had thought, wondering just how it could be for Humans to be so far from Earth.
But then, when the fog settles and his mind slowed for a chance to catch itself, he saw their faces, and the markings upon their cheeks. Markings practically identical to his own, pale blue against his darkened skin. Ones that he had long since learnt to hide to stop the bullying.

No, these were not human, but Alteans.

The word was… familiar, and frightening all the same.
Because, no, it couldn’t be possible.

Altea couldn’t be real.

It was nothing more than a made-up place that Lance had imagined when he was a child. It was a game he would play with his brothers and sisters, when he took them from their home, over the garden wall to the wonder of his fantasy world where he’d spend his childhood.
It was the lie he built to cover the truth of never remembering, instead choosing to believe in the sunsets of gold, the tall white buildings that seemed to stretch forever and beyond as if they held up the sky rather than exist beneath it.

In his imagination, Altea was a made-up, fantasy world that Lance had destroyed when he grew too old for childish games and dreams that someone had wanted him once.

In his memory, Altea was nothing but castle ruins as ancient as bones in the soil, the once-smooth rock of the garden wall pitted and scarred, the skeleton of the mighty spires now hidden under years of growth. Tendrils of bark pushed into the white stone and pulled Lance’s fantasy to nothing. To rubble and stone and fire and war and—

No! That was nothing but a dream, a nightmare!
Altea couldn’t be real. It couldn’t.

And it wasn’t.
Not anymore.

But it was once, and it was everything the boy had imagined.

So, did that mean, that, the dreams of having a family not of Earth, of once having those smiling faces be real, voices that called a name he couldn’t quite remember, a name that told him who the real him was—

The longer Lance remained in space, the more he believed it to be true:
That yes, the Altea of his childhood and the Home of the Princess were one and the same. Now no more, lost to the stars with all her people.

And with that came the truth that Lance was not Human like his family. Years spent believing such, vanished in the instance of realising that Allura and Coran were his people. Not Shiro and Pidge and Hunk.

They were Human.
He was not.

But did that mean the two Alteans were now his to claim as his last remaining family, them the only ones who could offer the acceptance he had been seeking for as long as he could remember.

But could such a thing really be real?

No. No it could not. Not to someone like Lance.
Besides, why would he want to throw away his family? Why would he want to throw away Earth for a planet that doesn’t exist, for the childish hope of finding a “family, ” just like him.
He already had a family. Back on Earth, they waited for him, not knowing if he was alive or dead, safe or hurting and wanting for them.

Mamá may have told him her story of how he came to them, but that was all it ever was: a story.
There was no magic star that brought him to her, no flash of light and the wreck of a ship that they pulled him from, before the sea rose up and claimed it for itself, dragging it down to the depths. Such a tale was theirs to weave, to lure him to sleep, hoping to bless him with pleasant dreams of ‘Altea.’ Not silly childish idealisms that created the lie that, he was in fact “a fallen star.”

Besides, isn’t that everyone’s wish at some point in their life? The wish that they are special. That they weren’t just the luck of the draw, some few random cells that mingled, merged and mutated into the Human that stood to exist as just another statistic on the global scale.
Everyone wanted to believe that they were a gift from god. That they were born for a reason.

Lance believed that too.
And then he grew up.

Lance understood he wasn’t special. He knew that he was just some ordinary kid from the foster system, whose parents didn’t want him.
And to make himself feel better, like every abandoned child, he had fashioned himself the tale that he had been lost to his true family. Not from the stars, but a distant land. Sailing on the waves aboard a rich man’s vessel that had fallen prey to a storm. One day they would come for him and take him to his true home.

Lance broke his Mamá’s heart when he told her. They’d been fighting; something childish on Lance’s behalf and he’d thrown the words at her like they were bullets.
They hadn’t made her bleed.

They’d made her cry.

And she wept. She wept and she wept until Lance cried beside her, apologising again and again, saying how sorry he was, that he loved her, that she was his Mamá and she’d always be his Mamá.
Even far in space, too far to see her smile or hear her voice, she was still his Mamá, and he was still “mi pequeño bebe.” Her little baby.
And he always would be, no matter how big he grew, or how much he told her he was too old.
But it didn’t matter. Because he was her son. Because he was her little fallen—

“Lance? Hey buddy, you there?”

Lance sat upright, his head snapping back to reality, his thoughts filed away once more, until he had time to himself where he could pull them out, one by one, like sun-stained photographs, black and white, curling at the edges from time.
Now was not the time for nostalgia. He was meant to be helping Hunk.

They were sat in the kitchen together, Lance with the translation notes from Pidge and Coran as he tried to help Hunk decipher whatever ingredients he had bought from their last planet; Jastra or something.
There had been a market, and Hunk intent of expanding his culinary skills had returned to the ship with an assortment of prizes and an excitement similar to a child on Christmas morning. He had called upon Lance to help him with the food’s preparations.
Or at least, the translation of each to understand what they could be.

“Uh, I think the word is Elin, but that translation…” Lance mumbled, staring down at the code, wondering why his brain won’t kick into gear and remind him how to search for the Teran term.

Hunk, however, has lost somewhat of his interest in the pink cucumber-looking fruit. “Lance? Are you alright?”
He leaned across the counter, fingers dusted with purple powder as he pressed it on his friend’s brow, mind jumping to the possibility of a fever. Because Lance is never quiet for long unless there’s a reason for it. And the reason is usually that he’s coming down with something.
They’ve been free of space-flu so far, but it’s only a matter of time.

“Huh? Wha— Oh, yeah, yeah! Sorry I was just daydreaming,” Lance said, plastering on a grin, letting the motion move his entire body as he pulled back from Hunk’s touch, brushing his forehead to rid it of the powder remnants, adding an accusatory mumble about “trying to ruin his hair” for good measure.
Hunk laughed.

And then, because it was part of his ploy as goofball and court jester, Lance fakes a yawn - which turned into a proper yawn - his jaw nearly unhinging from the effort. “Come on Hunk, this is boring. We could just throw it all into a dish and hope for the best. Space gumbo with a hint of added vanilla,” Lance said, picking up what looked like a dried twig.
Hunk snatched it out of his hand. “And have the oven explode? Not on my watch. Besides, it would only be the two of us clearing it up afterwards and I’d rather not have any extra work to deal with, thank you very much.”

Lance shrugged, but was satisfied when Hunk turned back to the purple “flour” looking box in his hands. He’d managed to swing a curveball. That was good enough for now.

Hunk had known him for years, so it was sometimes a challenge to fool him. Deflecting worked better, but that didn’t mean the Yellow Paladin didn’t hold onto the idea that there was something bugging Lance. He would store it in his memory, then find Lance and corner the poor boy at the most inopportune times.

Then it was left to Lance to deploy Plan B; where he chose to feed Hunk tiny little titbits of not-so-bad-things-that-are-getting-me-down, just to settle the questioning. Homesickness was only the final line in his arsenal to get Hunk to drop the subject, knowing bringing it up would cause the big guy to as feel such too.
Even if it was the most effective excuse, Lance hated to use it against him. Hunk was his friend and he didn’t deserve the lies. Nor did he deserve the reminders that home is far away. That Lance is the one who brought him here and should hate him for such.

For now, at least, the words bring solace and peace. Or as much peace that Lance could find inside his own mind.
He found it harder and harder these days; the tar consuming thoughts inside him, devouring happy memories until it left only marred, warped versions that had him hating himself all the more.
It was hard to keep fighting when even his head was against him.

“Lance?”

Oh shit, he’s done it again.

“Yes, Hunk I’m listening,” Lance lied.
But looking at his friend’s face, he knew that this time, he’d been caught out.

“Are you sure, buddy? Because you’ve been looking a little down these past few days.”
And so, begins Hunk’s attempts at interrogation.

Lance, for his part, just nodded along softly.
He didn’t want to open his mouth. He didn’t have any excuses, nor silver-tongued lies to pull him from the pit before he buried himself in it. He was afraid that if he tried to answer, this time, he’d just fall apart.

“Lance?”

Lance shuffled in his seat, uncomfortable under Hunk’s burrowing stare. He let himself wait a moment before fake-bottling it.
“Fine, I guess I’m just struggling with sleep a bit. I just thought it was, like my body clock, all wrong. Because we’ve been on Jastra for… what? Almost a week? Or, actually no, I’m pretty sure it was longer because their days were like, thirty Varga or something? I guess my body is still trying to figure that out.”

Please buy it, please buy it, please—

When Hunk’s classic “mom” look made its appearance, Lance knew he was safe. “Look, Lance. If you’re tired, you know you don’t have to force yourself to help me. I only dragged you to help me because I thought you’d finished exercise today and I know the pool gravity has alu matua valea.”
Lance nods along, trying to ignore the pricking thoughts the bloom in his throat like brambles. Hunk doesn’t notice his discomfort.
“Dude, you look smashed. Go chill. Lie down and rest up for a bit. You’ve got about three varga until the dinner’s cooked. Maybe longer if I can find enough ingredients to mash up a dessert. Why don’t I come and wake you before I serve up?”

And there was the exit.

“Yeah, sound great man, thanks. I don’t wake, just save me a bowl or something. I’ll probably end up getting up in the middle of the night or something stupid.”
“Sure thing. I’ll leave your bowl in the cooler. Might even have some of those Gargantu cookies as well if Pidge hasn’t found them.”
“Hunk, I love you.”
“I know, I know. Now off with you before you pass out on the kitchen floor.”

Lance bounced his way out of the room, but once he knew he was a considerable distance out of ear-shot, eye-shot and anything-else-shot, he let the familiar heaviness pervade his being until his steps were slow and monotonous, his head bowed, eyes fixed upon the floor and his feet as he dragged himself away from the warm air of the kitchen.

The Blue Paladin always yearned for the normalcy of social interaction, but if being in the presence of his closest friend meant his walls were collapsing, then he couldn’t risk it. He couldn’t show the boy behind the mask when they still needed him to fight.
So, he had to hide the truth, and hide himself away. A necessary solitude is found in his room.
His bleak, cold, uncharacteristically clean room.

There wasn’t much that Lance kept in the terms of personal belongings.
The only earthly treasure he kept was that of a family picture; one that he was lucky enough to have on his person the night Shiro crashed his spaceship in the desert. It was precious to him, and had always kept in his pocket yet now in space he didn’t want to risk anything happening to it, and had taped the picture to the space just above his pillow, so that the nights that he’d lie awake, unable to sleep, they would always been close by. He’d watch them, look at their smiling faces, hoping to dream of home.

Beyond that, Lance had begun to collect material things in hopes of surrounding himself with familiarity, to build himself somewhere that he felt that he belonged. “Nesting,” his Mother had always said when she’d find Lance rearranging the furniture in his room for the second time that month, watching from the doorway as he tried to move his bed by himself.

In the castle, Lance didn’t have the freedom to choose where his bed lay, but at least he had a choice as what to fill the empty space.
Propped up against the wall was the closest he could come to an acoustic guitar. The boy had bought it off of a trader a while back; the seven-stringed instrument reminding him of his brother’s hand-me-down he used to strum on, when rainy days made outside less inviting, when instead he’d sit in his room or on the stairs or on the window seat trying to get that one difficult rift to work.

Lance didn’t play as much in space.
He’d get the urge to pick up the guitar and strum out some of his Mama’s favourites, but he could never make himself actually do it. He used to play for her, and for Luis and Maya and the kids when they got bored with jumping on the sofas like the floor was lava or something. The guitar reminds him of that, and for now, the memories were enough.
Lance would take whatever he could, so far from the familiar green and blue.

By his clothes locker, stacks of books were piled, pushed into the corner of locker and wall to give the growing tower support. A cipher code sat on top of it all, but the desire to read had been sapped as quickly as Lance’s energy, with only the top three texts having been touched. He wanted to read them before he slept, hoping to be soothed by something that was once a chore. He would read to his siblings back on Earth, so much that the notion of doing so before he himself slept had become a habit.

On the shelves, trinkets glitter between the plants that wait in little hovering pots and weird shaped river stones that pulsate lightly when warmed; curling shells that would sing to themselves, their perfume changing dependant on their mood. Now, they sleep, the soft scent of honey filling the air, reminding Lance that he had been too distracted by his broken head to swipe some of Hunk’s cooking.

The last of Lance’s possessions wasn’t something he had let anyone else see.
He kept it in a small grey box, hidden away, in the headboard of his bed, behind a loose panel that only he himself knew about because he was the one to loosen it; caught in a nightmare too long that he lashed out and broke the fixings.

It was when the solace of being alone was not enough, when he needed something more than the grey-bleak howling winters of an emptiness inside him. It was the desire to feel something
To feel anything.

And it was that clear, overpowering thought that had Lance crossing the room, climbing onto his bed so that he could reach the loose panel.
With practiced precision he moved, until suddenly he’s settled near the headboard, the box in his lap but frozen as he waits, eyes on the door, listening for the sound of approaching footsteps. Perhaps Pidge, or Hunk, or even Shiro who was concerned enough about Lance’s excuse from extra sparring this morning with the hopes of coming to talk.

Hah, as if he would be so lucky.
Of course, no one came.

There was no sound, from Human or Altean otherwise, and Lance felt himself relax back into the cushion of his pillow, fiddling with the clasp. The box no bigger than a watch box, but it held enough of Lance’s things that he had to dig past the tape, the bandages until his fingers caught on the cool smooth metal of his blade that he buried beneath.
It was not so much a blade as it was as much a shard of glass; a perfect edge sharper than any razor he could find. Something that no one knew he possessed, with no one to watch him as his mind danced upon the line of danger and insanity.

There were many blades he could take for himself, for such the same purpose of his shard; knives from the kitchen, weapons from the training hall, scalpels from the infirmary. Even a razor from his shaver in the bathroom.
But Lance was cautious. Perhaps paranoid.
What if Shiro was to notice something was up, and came in and counted the blades in his bathroom, to make sure the boy wasn’t broke on the inside? What if Coran were to notice one of his scalpels were missing? What if Hunk came asking if anyone had seen where his knife had gone?
They’d all notice something like that.

What they wouldn’t notice was a shard of vitrified crystal, taken from a battlefield; which one, he did not know.

And as Lance held the glass, the sharpness pushed against his wrist without hesitation, he felt the familiar spout of darkness break free from the depths of his mind, the tide rising in its attempts to drown him.
Not special, not needed, not strong enough, not special, not fast enough, not Altean, not good enough, not Human, not needed, not wanted, not—

The castle’s alarm is what stopped him. Not soon enough before blood was split, but the alarm shattered the silence with a high-pitched wail.
Lance almost imagined the sound of screams and tears. But none were shed for him.

“Paladins, we are almost upon the Galra fleet. Hurry, to your lions!” came Allura’s voice over the comms-system, calling out for the soldiers to mount their beasts and ride, to deal bloody battle with the enemy.
Lance looked down to the blood that bloomed in lines upon his arm. There would be no time to clean, to bandage, to sit with the biting pain as it drowned away the silence. Allura had summoned him and he must obey. Protecting the Castle came before anything thoughts of himself. Hell, the safety of the others came first.
Before him. Before his pain. Before his emptiness.

They came first.

Every time.

Lance was the last to enter the changing room, rushing past Shiro and Hunk who had already donned their Paladin armour and were heading to their lions. They didn’t see the way Lance held his arm close to his chest, hiding the blood that seeped through the sleeve of his jacket, the way he deliberately turned his body to the side to hide the limb from view as he rushed in and Pidge rushed out.
“How many?” he called after them, watching the three charge down the corridor, faces masks of stone, Shiro and Hunk already debating flying tactics.

“Don’t know, didn’t hang around to count,” Pidge yelled back. “But I think this is the fleet we’ve been searching for. We haven’t come across one this size since leaving the Javeeno system, but it’s not just that. It looks like they’re splitting in half. Not all of them are staying to fight us, so Allura thinks that the fleeing ships have the Red Lion. We have to get it back.”
Then she’s gone, chasing after Yellow and Black, leaving Lance freedom to change quickly without having to try and hide his arm that is beginning to sting.

Lance shed his clothes quickly, stashing his bloody jacket in the back of his storage locker. He’ll take it to his room when he comes back, wash the blood out and keep going on as normal. But until then, Lance has to contend with his own handicap that the dealt himself, as the stinging becomes biting as the not-quite-skin tight of his under-suit chafes his arms. But the cuts and the bleeding concealed though, and for that he is grateful.
Any pain he feels is hidden under a mask as he storms forward, ready for the battle.

“Six battlecruisers,” Allura was saying as Lance entered the Bridge, ignoring the holo-projection that filled the centre of the room with stars and the visual of a half dozen large ships. Dotted around them, flying in formation were dozens of djalg squadrons, each supported by a heavy gunner.
Six battlecruisers and fourteen support squadrons.
This foe was the largest Voltron had come up against, so it stood to reason that they were protecting something important. And that something had to be the Red Lion.

Everyone else had already gone ahead, Lance playing catch-up as normal. Allura bade him good luck, to which he nodded before throwing himself down the zipline.
The comms came online, with Shiro laying out a quick-fire strategy to find their target ship. They’re already in their Lions, but there’s no chance to wait for Lance. There was a definite divide in the fleet now; Allura directing them from the Bridge that the further three main cruisers and four smaller had changed direction, heading away from them.
Fleeing, while the remaining ships and at least two thirds of the djalg turn to face the castle that closes in on their position. Their guns were already charging, and would be charged long before the Castle’s own guns would be in range.

Coran scrambled for the shields as the Paladins scrambled to make evasive manoeuvres.

“Pidge watch your three, there’s already a squad coming up your right side.” Shiro’s voice crackled in the comms as Lance climbed into Blue’s pilot seat, trying to ignore pain shooting up his left arm. It pulsated when he gripped her controls, but now wasn’t the time to lament when he feels the energy humming around him. “Lance, the shields are almost ready. Make sure you’re out before they’re up.”
“I’m almost out Coran, give me a tick.”

And Blue’s flying, up the launch tunnel until space surrounds him and he can see the Galra already engaging with his teammates. The Castle shield is up and he’s chasing the expanse to get to the others. “What’s the plan Shiro?”

“Lance, you were the first to bond with your Lion, and the quickest to find a secure connection with her. I know Blue is yours, but we have no one to fly Red. We’re going to need you to go get her. We’ll keep the Galra’s main focus on us while you board that ship and get Red. Find the bond with her and bring her back to us. Got that team?”
Everyone yelled out in agreement, Lance’s body on auto as he piloted Blue higher than the team, spying the second half of the fleet beyond the first line of defence.
Black and Yellow are in the lead, Green already sweeping in and out of ships, through her camouflage up to confuse the djalg that try and give chase.

It’s not long before the stars are filled with fire and explosions, as the Galra and Voltron engage in battle. Black draws out his jaw blade, leaving debris in his path, trying to divide their enemies’ patterns. Lance wants to help him, but he knows that’s not the plan as he and Blue climb higher, rising above the battle to give chase to the second half of the fleet. It is moving fast, faster as it builds up power and their window for their plan is slowly diminishing.

Allura and Coran have slowed their retreat, trying to pull them back into the fight with a constant barrage of fire from the Castle, but they’re being outmanoeuvred by the numbers of djalg and the engaging ships that are acting as a wall between them and their desired prize.

“Damn— Damn it! I’ve got some on my tail,” Hunk yelled, the sounds of explosions joining his less-than-chipper tone. “They’re too fast, I can’t quite shake them. Pidge can you—”
“Sorry Hunk, I’ve got my own adoring fans. I’ve got too many chasing me, but I can’t— Damn! There’s no chance to turn and take them out, I—” An explosion rattled the communication line, everyone calling out for their youngest teammate. Lance saw the barrage of fire being laid down upon his family, Blue turning in mid-air at the lightest of touches, pulling away from the obvious path to the main ship hauling itself from the fire fight.

“I’m coming guys,” he yelled, turning Blue on her heel, an ice beam freezing the three that were inbound for him. He made to push Blue into a nose dive, but Shiro’s voice stopped him in his tracks. “No Lance! You need to get the last Lion. We’ve got this. Now go!”
“But Shiro—”
“Go! That’s an order. Go!”

There was no way Lance would’ve been able to cleave himself a path to his family, no way to turn back once he saved them and give chase to the fleet. He knew it and so did Shiro, taking away Lance’s choice by giving him an order.
Despite everything in his being telling him no, that he needed to go back, that he needed to help them…

Lance pulled hard on Blue’s controls, once again speeding after the carriers far from the battle. None of the guarding djalg noticed his approach, none turning to bottle his approach as he sped away from his family, wishing them to be safe, knowing he could do nothing for them while Red was so close. Blue could feel her sister too, and excitement spurring her forward, faster.

So close, so close…

Theirs for the taking.

Blue reached the rear of the main carrier. Her maw was strong enough that she could rip through the metal like it was paper, breaching the Galra ship deep enough that the air rushed out, along with soldiers, androids and supplies. Not Lance though. With his visor up, he took shelter in Blue’s mouth, holding on tight until the pressure dropped and it was only him left in the immediate vicinity. But the attack had called upon the attention of others surrounding him.
Blue was in danger, but she wouldn’t fit inside the breach, and there was no time for Lance to re-join her in the cockpit and take out every enemy that was trying to hurt her.

This was their last chance. They were too close to Everall, and the Galran’s controlled systems. This was the last time they would be given such an opportunity.
Lane couldn’t turn back now.

And doing what he had never done before, he ordered Blue to leave him.

When Shiro told Lance he had been the first to find a secure connection with his Lion, he would never have imagined that just with his voice, Lance could ask such a thing of Blue. With their mind link, he showed her the path, back to the Castle, back to the Paladins, back to their family where they would keep her safe.
He felt her, in his mind, wanting to resist, worrying for her Paladin. “No Blue. You have to go. I’ll be okay. I’ll get Red and then I’ll follow, right behind you.”

And with the djalg on her tail, and her goal in mind, she left.
Leaving Lance on an enemy ship.

Alone.

Chapter Text

The boy could feel his patience beginning to wear thin.
Too many days remained the same, too many like the one that came before, identical to the one that was sure to follow, with no end in sight to this damning cycle.

He had once thought himself like the mountains; constant and unmoving.
But rain, over time, weathers away the mountain stone, just as time aboard the ship wears at Keith’s his patience and resilience to the interminable cycle. He can feel the push is strong today, as he stands upon the bridge of his ship; a notion always unappealing, and as repulsive as it was to the idea of giving it all up.

Hypocritical in standing, but for good reason.

Commander Keith, legionnaire to Zarkon and the Galran empire, stood at the Bridge of his battlecruiser and stared out at the untamed, unruly space that lay before him, wishing he was somewhere else. Anywhere else, but here. Not here, in space, but here in the position he stood as part of the Galra force sweeping across the Universe leaving only death and destruction in its wake. Yet, the boy knew why he remained.

It was for the freedom this position brought him.

Not for fame, not for glory, nor for the sake of his Emperor and the corrupt dictatorship he controlled, like many of his brethren that joined the cause for such noble and honourable reasons. The very same brainwashed brethren who believed Emperor Zarkon’s hearsay that the Galra were some great race, destined to rule everyone, everything, for all eternity.
It was a childish thought.

And it was a wonder how Keith’s patience hadn’t snapped already.

“Corrlux.”

Keith turned at his title, his attention drawn by a lower ranking soldier who addressed him in native tongue – respectfully – and stood waiting for permission to speak. He was frozen in salute and would remain that way until the Commander acknowledged him.
Not particularly focused on anything else, and hoping for a break in the dull boredom, Keith allowed the soldier to speak; a slight wave of his hand motioning for him to continue.
He needn’t give the soldier his full attention, however, and turned back to the stars.

Keith reminded himself to keep his expression lack and not draw focus to the irritation that shifted under his skin. Over the years, Keith had learnt how to command his soldiers. They knew him as one who angered quickly, who feared how ruthless his iron fist could be, should they dare to test his patience.

Today was certainly one that saw Keith quicker to bite than usual. Regardless of his attitude towards his men, it was becoming far more common for the Commander to raise his voice. He had too much to contend with; the stress of his plans weighing on his mind, the worry urging the instances of anger to grow frequent in nature. But Keith couldn’t let the crew think something was amiss—

“Sir, Commander Thrigg has called upon you for your council.”

But then again…

Anger always kept the crew from overstepping their mark. The fear of his retaliation kept the rest of them from questioning his commands. Aboard his cruiser, Keith’s anger kept order. And he needed order, if he was going to conduct at his rulings, while he had enough power at his disposal.

“He called upon me?”

Keith’s voice was cold; the bite of a winter-chill and as suffocating as the void of space. In rage his eyes were as black as a starless sky, his voice steel on ice and bone, with no warning to the limits of his anger. He had already berated another soldier just this morning because Keith didn’t care to stop himself. Now would allow him to remind his crew of his temper, and remind them to keep their distance and silly petty questions to themselves.
The one before him simply quivered, eyes upon his feet and nothing else.

“Well, soldier? You bring me news then refuse to speak. Need I help you loosen your tongue?”

The steadiness of the Commander’s threat brought fear to the face of the soldier who had unwillingly angered his better who moved only to turn away from the outreach of stars. He faced the soldier and the crew of the Bridge, deliberate in his turn towards them that they felt his ire and sought solace with the act of not meeting his eyes.
They kept themselves to themselves, faces blank, eyes on their screens with fast moving hands to show that they were hard at work, as not to incur the wrath of their Corrlux. Not like the fool that stood within reach of his blade.

“No Sir, I- I’m sorry Sir, it’s just that I—”
“So, not only do you have nothing else to tell me, you proceed to waste my time with your babbling?”
“N-no Sir, that is not— What I mean to say is—Well, it’s not that I—I don’t mean to—”
“Spit it out!”

Perhaps Keith’s anger was getting the better of him. The Galran soldier looked positively terrified.
That might not bode well if important messages need to be relayed and the entire crew were too scared to pass them across for fear of lashings. Not that Keith had, of course, but rumours were as much a weapon to him as his silence and furrowed brow.

“So Thrigg has hailed us. What is his request?”
“Commander Thrigg’s fleet has entered the Dwale System, near the cloud nebula. He requests to speak with you.”
“Concerning…?”
“S-Sir?” The soldier didn’t have an answer to Keith’s question, turning to anyone for help who might know what it was he was meant to say. No one came to his aid. No one dared turn his way.

“Eyes on me Soldier. You’re talking to me, so look at me.”
The grunt did as he was told. Keith ignored the trembling in his boots.

“Did you think to ask Commander Thrigg why he wanted my council? Did you neglect to remember we are on an important mission from Emperor Zarkon, who asked me personally to undertake such an invaluable task, and that we can hardly afford distraction let alone a mistake, if it were perhaps that Thrigg has hailed me for the sake of important news that not knowing, or not knowing in time, would put our mission in jeopardy?.”

Keith stood tall, despite being shorter than most of the Galra present. He had never let such a thing inhibit him, nor his feelings – even if his anger was harder to control.
Time beneath many’s boot had taken pity from his mind, allowing words to be thrown like knives, clear and precise, not to cut, but to frighten the weak kittens back from the jaws of the hungering beast.

“Go and ask him. If it is nothing more than a friendly chat then tell him that I disrespectfully decline.”

The soldier nodded, the quaking in his boots joined by the wavering of his tongue. He scrambled a salute. “Vrepit Sa.”
“Vrepit Sa,” Keith repeated, words far colder and threatening than any threat he could think of.
Those gathered on the Bridge winced from memory of the last to anger the Commander, and the final words he spoke before cutting the soldier down where he stood. To save themselves from gaining his attention, they once again busied themselves with their tasks on the consoles, pulling up screens to monitoring the surroundings and the status of the fleet.
The Corrlux rarely disturbed anyone who was putting their efforts to use.

Granted silence and a moment for peace once more, Keith turned back to the stars and the path that lay ahead of them, away from Everall and Galran Central Command.
The fleet was travelling fast, but conservicely so, maintaining a level of dissonance from what lay around them. They didn’t chase prey that stumbled upon their path, nor did they seek out civilisations to capture on planets that they passed.
The fleet kept to its course and would remain that way, as per Corrlux’s orders. The only fault to their pattern was when they entertained the few whims of Captains, Commanders and Fleet Admirals that called upon them with questions and requests. To curry favour with them kept Keith’s crew well informed with current affairs, and let them hold onto the disguise that he had bled into the crew until they believed his lies.

Of course they were lies.

As Keith stood as Commander to the one and only fleet in the Empire in possession of a Lion of Voltron, why would Zarkon ask for it, not to be brought to him, but sent far away? Why would such a thing, so obvious and so perceivable to be false, be simplistic in fooling the crew?

Because they were mindless slaves, that’s why.
Slaves and nothing more, with only the want to serve a merciless and insane ruler. Brainwashed. Programmed like robots to think and feel or not at all. They were given their instructions and did what was expected of them.

If not?
Well, they’d incur the wrath of their Corrlux for one.

Keith was unlike his kin.
Growing up, he always felt that the actions of his Empire were wrong. He didn’t care if it was in the name of the Galra race or in the name of their glorious Emperor. It was wrong.

He had been one of very few to be able to think for himself, able to feel more than anger, yet it was anger that was the whip that lashed, the key to the chains carved from fear and the only thing his kin had every truly known.
Pity was a wasted emotion. Trust was volatile and poisonous, as much as it was a double-edged blade. He had no friends, no allies, no one that he could truly call a brother that would stand beside him.

And yet, alone, Keith continued to risk his life and defy Zarkon, Emperor of the Galra for the sake of wanting to destroy what was fundamentally wrong.
How could no one else see? How could no one else understand that this couldn’t go on, this utter annihilation of any and all that disagreed could not continue, for soon there would be nothing left.

Keith’s plan hadn’t always been to stand as Commander amongst the Galran Army. When he was young, he would lash out and fight the authority that told him Zarkon was the true King to all and it would be an honour to serve him.
An honour my ass.
But no matter how he struck out, defied the elders and cursed the Emperor’s name, it had no effect on all that surrounded him. It wasn’t until the Galran kit heard the name of the ghost’s that had long-since haunted Zarkon’s reign.

Marmora.

Asking of them had more effect than any plight Keith had ever brought upon his peers. The retaliation to such a name was the light in the dark that inspired Keith that he too should be such a force against the corrupt, that if any one overheard his name in conversation, they two would be punished with lashings. It was the Marmora that inspired Keith, and showed him the path to take.
But finding the Blade of Marmora had been impossible.

Not one willing to accept defeat so easily, Keith sought a way to show his usefulness to them, knowing the, to be the ghosts within the walls, the shadows within the dark. They were always watching.
He showed his strength as so they would employ him in their ranks. He showed them his smarts, his wit, his ability to turn enemy into friend, to turn friend upon one another to better his own standing. Those around him showed respect. They forgot of his unpure nature, seeing a soldier through and through.
One by one, they followed him.

Years of hard work; of kissing feet and bowing, of saluting and training and fighting, Keith was finally a Commander.
Finally, in control of his own fleet, and one that had recovered the Red Lion no less, Keith was finally in a position of power to help the Ghosts of the Blade.
But still they remained elusive; smoke in the air that he could not grasp—

“Commander, Commander!”
The Galran was pulled from his thoughts, his face holding a confused look upon it, almost as if he had forgotten his surroundings for a moment. And he had, near enough. But before another could detect the slip in his mask, Keith pulled it firmly over his features, rounding on the who that had broken his train of thought.
It was a soldier, different to the one before, hurrying forward with urgency and an underlying fear that remained from watching his Corrlux’s earlier altercation with the messenger.

“This better be good, soldier—”
“Corrlux, an enemy ship has been spotted on approach, starboard to our position. Sir, it’s the Voltron Lions.”

Voltron? Here? But how?
Keith had made sure to take every necessary course of action to assure that none but his crew and only his crew knew of their quarry. They wouldn’t tattle; the fear of Keith’s whip too great, the fear of damaging Zarkon’s mission too much to risk for idle gossip. So how…?

But then again, their foe was Voltron.
They were a group of rash and unpredictable fighters, with abilities yet to be determined by the Galra force, even with the few times their paths had already crossed. Even if Keith had planned for every possible outcome, it was without a doubt that the Paladin’s would do something unexpected, and turn the tide in their favour.
Now they came for him and the Red Lion in his possession.

To face them now in battle was not a child’s game Keith wished to play. He had put enough effort into concealing his plans from his “comrade’s ships” that he did not desire to falter from his plans. He wouldn’t allow this expected, yet abrupt ambush, to mean anything more to him other than a minor inconvenience.

But, what if this wasn’t an inconvenience, but a gift?
Rather than delivering the Red Lion to the Marmora – the only ally Keith had ever considered – wasn’t Voltron and its team of renegade Humans just as much a friend in this war. Not friend per say, but their goal was the same and the methods practically identical. “Hack and slash” until Zarkon’s reach was stunted and could no longer grow to infect the universe.
In fact, weren’t they even more desirable compared to the Marmora? They were Voltron. And tales of the five Lions combined would hold devasting strength that could easily stand against the empire, or so the stories were told.

And yet, as preferable as they were, Keith had not thought of allying with Voltron because he barely knew anything of them, other than their knack for causing chaos and their unpredictability. No one would’ve expected the stir they caused; the Humans that had appeared out of nowhere, hailing from some unnamed, unexplored back-water planet in the Quar-Klux system, where little was known about the savage civilisations that still remained unaware of the other life that lived in their Galaxy.
It was the Galra’s pride that lay fault to their lack of knowledge when it came to these fur-less, violent beings. Never one for the purpose of seeking familiarity of other races, the Galra only ever cared for themselves. Perhaps ten thousand years ago, when Alfor and Zarkon were aligned as Paladins, then things were different.
But war changed that. War changed everything.

Isn’t change the only constant that everyone is truly guaranteed?

Voltron could attest to that: simply their resurrection and that now they stood against Zarkon, rather than with him; clear in the path they had forged through the stars; the unrelenting force they amassed as they attacked every Galra base, every ship, every patrol with vengeance, as if they were the grieving survivors to a forgotten, desolate world.
Their fury rivalled that of the Galra’s, and that in itself showed proof of them to be a worthy adversary in this endless war.

So what of an alliance?
Not between the Galra and Voltron, but with the Paladins and Keith himself. If he offered them the Red Lion as a sign that he was on their side, would they allow him to join them and destroy the Galra before the war was lost?

“Corrlux, what are your orders?”

The crew were waiting on him, thinking his silence in legion to his mind planning a strategy of counter-attack. But no, Keith’s mind remained upon mutiny and the risk of such a plan of action.
He couldn’t side with Voltron, here, now. They were to engage in battle and there was no way for Keith to reach out to them to halt the attack without—

No, no! What was he saying?
Give Voltron the Red Lion? That was insane! The very reason Keith had hunted it down and stole it right from under the Emperor’s nose was to give it to the Marmora to hide it.

Sure, handing the weapon over to Voltron would make them more powerful in their fight against Zarkon, but they were just a few against the many millions of Galran soldiers, with their infinite ships and rising numbers in the form of battle-ready androids and detection drones.
Few against many was folly, and handing over the Red Lion for that little burst of strength was as good as Keith hand-wrapping the war machine and delivering it to Zarkon’s throne room himself. The exact opposite of Keith’s plan.

No, Voltron was not strong enough to take on the Empire, even with their arsenal strengthened by the Red Lion. Even if they fell, with four and not five, Keith would be far enough from Zarkon before he realised his “Commander’s” intention. And Keith would keep on going.
He just had to figure out how to pilot the beast. It wasn’t impossible for him, but still countless nights spent hounding away in his mind for the answer had left him tired and with more questions than answers.

The Lion had no weakness to its forcefield, and no weapon, no matter how great, would let Keith penetrate it. But the Galran was anything if not stubborn and he wouldn’t let the Lion best him. He was saving it from Zarkon. Why couldn’t it understand?
It needed him as much as he needed it. He needed to find a way.

Keith wouldn’t fight Voltron.
Not with the full force of the fleet. Even if victory was but a faint hope, he wouldn’t want to leave any lasting damage that would wipe them out sooner. Even if they were not allied with Keith, they are still a thorn in Zarkon’s side and a much-needed distraction that would keep the Emperor’s eye from his own schemes.

And with a plan in action, Keith turned to the soldiers awaiting orders.

“Send orders to the forward ships. I want all djalg targeting the Lions before they get close, the cruisers with their fire aimed on the Altean Craft that accompanies them.”
“Xardin,” he said, turning to his second-in-command, the younger replying with a salute as he was called. “Send orders to Pelax on the forward ship. Have him take control of the battle. The rest of the ships will escort this battlecruiser away from the fire fight. We cannot have Voltron take the Lion. Now go: Myzen!”

The soldiers scrambled at the fleet Commander’s orders, the alarms and lights joining the fray as the entire ship was warned of the incoming enemy, not yet in visual-sight, but detected on the long-range scanners.
Soldiers scrambled to their fighter ships, the holo-screen on the main deck lighting up with a view of the djalg and the gunner supports occupying the space between the cruisers, taking formation under the orders from the officers of the ships staying to fight.
Keith turned from his place at the window, returning to his chair at the helm, addressing the pilot who stood to his right. “Take us out of here, before Voltron is on top of us.”
“Yes Corrlux. As you order.”

The soldier complied with his Commander’s instructions, making haste to instruct the engines to maximum power, their positions facing forward-starboard to speed up their attempt to turn and change their current course before Voltron could intercept.

“Four signatures, closing in fast!”
“Do not lose your heads. With Pelax diverting their attention, we will be free to pull back.”
“But the Galra do not retreat—”
“Are you questioning a direct order, Xardin?” Keith’s voice carried clear through the chaos, the threat clear without him having to suggest as such. His second in-command averted his eyes, a bow of his head in apology. “No Sir, just querying as to the nature of our strategy.”
“You need not bother. Focus only on adhering to my orders and leave the thinking to me. Vrepit Sa.”
“Vrepit Sa.”

The dismissal was followed by a call of order, and the previously worrying soldiers began to calm as the forward ships pulled away from the Commander’s Battlecruiser. With the second engines kicking in with another burst of energy, the battleship veered portside, causing the other ships surround it to scatter in hopes of not being knocked aside. They were quick to assemble themselves in formation once again, half of the guarding djalg sent to bolster the attack force of the forward fleet.
Only two battle supports and a half-legion of solo-fighters remained with the Commander’s vessel. The navigations took control of the ship’s course, calculating the route to take them towards the Leuen System; but, known for its unpredictable space-storms and the fluctuating orbit of Venris, the idea of their route sent a flurry of worry throughout the crew.

“Commander, the navigation is set to enter a red zone. The solar flare from Leuen’s star has disrupted the balance of Venris. The planet’s atmosphere is too volatile. If we get too close it will distort our scanners. We cannot approach—”
“I have given my orders, now follow them. Our ship is heavy enough that we will not be pulled into Venris’ fluctuating gravitational pull. The Paladin’s and their Lions will not have the same advantage. They will be forced to travel around, giving us time to join up with the fleet that patrols that far side, near the mining sectors.”
“But what of Pelax? You’ve sent his to his doom—”
“He is a Galra soldier that knows the law of battle, soldier. Just like every Galra soldier that serves Zarkon and carries his name where they walk, Pelax is prepared to lay down his life for the sake of victory.”
“But Sir, Voltron—”

Keith turned on the soldier with frustration, the fear of his plans crumbling around him fanning the flames in his chest, spitting sparks from his fangs as he bared them to the one that dared question him.
“Voltron has yet to be defeated by any Galra fleet. But if we stood our ground and demanded battle, there is a chance that we too would be lost. I would lay down my life for Zarkon, but I know doing so would lose the Red Lion, and it would risk the reign our Emperor has now and his life. We choose not to fight this day for the sake of the Empire.”

He closed the distance in three deliberate strides, his nose inches from the Galran’s who dared not pull away.
“If you are a coward who will not fight for his Emperor or his Empire, then you’re not truly Galran.”

The words weren’t his, but of the many teachers and scholars that thought the whip would break Keith’s will; that his resilience was just the creation of his upbringing.
They weren’t words he had ever believed, but he knew the lesser minded drones of his kin did, and it was these words that pulled emotion from the soldier, a firm salute masking the fear he felt at angering his Corrlux.

“I am true Galran. I stand for the Empire and fight for Emperor Zarkon. I would lay down my life for his sake and the sake of our brethren.”
“Then set the course and do not question me again.”
“Yes Sir. Vrepit Sa.”

It was enough for the entire crew to focus on their duties, although many knew not to question Keith’s orders. They simply had to prepare themselves for the unknown that lay before them.

“Corrlux, we don’t need to retreat. We’re strong, we can fight.” Apparently not all knew when to hold their tongue.

The Commander turned, rage flaring hot as he came face to face with Xardin. And yet, at the sight of the younger, barely a kit grown into his ears, Keith’s anger softened into irritation. “This is not a retreat, Xardin. Think of this as strategy.”
“But the Galran way has always been ‘Victory or Death.’ We cannot turn tail and flee from the culm, when they are there, within our grasp to crush and destroy.”

As much as Xardin was still young, he was as much a mindless drone as many veterans in Zarkon’s legion. He thought it an honour to serve under the Emperor’s name, the dictator not seen as a King, but a living deity. His nature was pure, his headstrong and stubborn attitude one that Keith had taken a liking to, despite his desire for distance from everyone. He had even considered Xardin a possible ally, but as much as the kit’s nature was pure, he was already corrupted.
And Keith couldn’t risk everything for the sake of showing the younger the truth when it could be his downfall.

Corrlux rose form his chair, ready to admonish his second-in-command for the sake of keeping face, but Keith’s words remained unvoiced as an almighty crash sounded throughout the ship, the Bridge’s display lighting up as an explosion ricocheted across the bridge’s view.
The unmistakable sound of blasters sounded through the smoke, and the roar of a Lion followed, too close for it to be the echoing from Pelax’s incursion.

“Tell me what’s happening!” Keith demanded, but no sooner had the words left his mouth, was he thrown to the floor. Another crash, much louder than the first one, signified something had hit the ship.
And Keith didn’t need to be told what had just hit them.

“Commander, it’s the Blue Lion! It didn’t remain with Pelax’s ships. They didn’t even see it escape them, and now it’s attacking our ship.” Another crash.
Keith managed to remain on his feet this time, hand on his hip as he reached for his sword, his fighting instincts screaming danger!

Another crash. “Commander, it’s trying to breach the hull.”
“Return fire! Shields on full!”
“But the engines—”
“Redirect all secondary engine power to the shields. Never mind outrunning the beast if it destroys us where we stand now,” Keith yelled, mind working overtime. Attack? Don’t attack? Are they friend or are they foe?
But Keith couldn’t risk the Lion for the sake of keeping a nuisance alive, but there was no way that he could destroy the Blue Lion would weaken Voltron and the remaining Lion’s would fall to Zarkon. He didn’t even know if he could destroy the Blue Lion.
Oh god, what is he to do?

The metal of the bridge screeched, the ear-splitting shriek twisted and mangled in the deep rumbling of thunder, the entire battleship shaking as the Lion clawed at the hull, it’s body slamming into it again and again in attempts to gain entrance.
“Don’t let it breach the hull! If it damages our defences when we’re inside Venris’ atmosphere, we’ll be at risk to the toxic fumes.”
“It’s in our blind spot. Our guns can’t aim for it.”
“Then get the battle supports to fire on us! I don’t care if they hit this ship, but we need to get the Lion off of our ship NOW!”

Damn Voltron and damn the chaos they bring!

Keith looked about the Bridge, ashamed and amazed at the effect one Lion was doing to the crew. There wasn’t one soldier who wasn’t scared, but there was something to be said about their ability to function under the stress of possible death. Brainwashing his head reminded him, and whatever faint ghost of respect Keith felt for the Galra, vanished.
Now was not the time for feelings.
Now was the time for action.

“Commander? Commander, where are you going?” Xardin had turned, searching for orders from his Corrlux, only to see Keith turning his back on the Bridge, unknown emotions creeping in through the cracks of his mask. “Commander!”
“I’m heading to the Red Lion. If the Paladins breach the hull, then that’s where they’ll go. But the Blue Lion might as well be a distraction, so I’m going to head them off.” He slowed his run from the Bridge, turning back to his second. “Xardin, you’re in charge while I’m off the Bridge. I want that Lion under heavy fire. See to it that it does not gain access to the ship, and that the others do not follow us.”
He missed the automated reply of “Vrepit Sa,” already gone.

Keith wasted no time with stairs as he vaulted the rail of the helm, dropping down to the lower level where the communication officers were frantically relaying orders between patrols and the other half of the fleet, that were still battling the remaining Lions and Altean vessel. Keith spared them no time, nor focus as he rushed from the Bridge, through the maze of corridors and endless halls and down towards the hangar bay.
He hadn’t got far when an almighty crash was heard and, once again, Keith was thrown from his feet. He didn’t fall, clamouring to the rail of the walkway as the ship lurched, the gravity function flickering long enough his feet left the floor. Whatever damage the Lion inflicted didn’t remain, and Keith was able to make it to the lowest level when it rammed the hull again.

This time, it broke through.

[Warning. Security breach. Condition critical. Hold 3, Level 52. I repeat, Level 52, South Cargo Hold 3. All soldiers to intercept. Do not allow the Paladins to take the Red Lion. I repeat—]
“I GET IT!” Keith roared to the ship’s internal communications system, not bothering with changing his course. By the time he returned to the fifty second floor, the Paladins would no longer be there. They would head for one place and one place only: the forward hangar bay, where the Red Lion waited under guard.

However, when Keith reached the forward hangar bay, he found the corridor outside to be empty. No guards on the door, neither Galra nor Android. Damn it. Was Keith too late?

Preparing to fight, the Galran pulled out his blade and charged into the hangar bay.

The empty hangar bay.

No guards and certainly no paladins. Just the prize of a Red Lion supported from the ceiling with its particle-shield barrier still in full effect. But Keith didn’t lower his guard. If his men had abandoned their post to seek out the enemy aboard their ship, then he couldn’t very well go galivanting off after them to give them a lecture about leaving the Red Lion unguarded.
And leave the Red Lion unguarded…

But standing out in the middle of the room would give the Paladin’s the opportunity for a stealth attack, if they managed to evade their pursuers. Better for Keith to mount his own ambush, even if it was only him against an unknown number of assailants.

Still caught up in the adrenaline of fighting, the Galran didn’t think beyond that of hiding himself near the Red Lion’s paws, tucking himself into a nook created by a stack of containers, power cells and the like. Nothing that could aid him with a surprise attack, unless he wanted to blow himself up with the enemy.
A warm sort of feeling settled on the back of his neck at the thought; a memory of laughter just quiet enough to be heard. A Paladin?

Keith turned to look, but there was no entry point from behind him, save the air vent, but that was barely big enough for a kit to squeeze through. He doubted a Paladin would be able to fit.

The familiar, warm feeling brushed over him again, and this time Keith knew he was being watched. But from where?
There was no one else in here, he knew that. Logically, the Paladin’s couldn’t have fought their way to the Lion before he had. Besides, they breached the ship after Keith reached his desired level. So who—

“Oh, thank gods I found you.”
The unfamiliar voice caught Keith’s attention instantly, his eyes pulled towards the southern door. And there, in gleaming white armour, a little marked from battle, a little worn from scars of fight, stood a Paladin of Voltron. The Blue Paladin, if the accented colour was anything to go by.
Were they alone? Was that why it was only the Blue Lion to chase them?

“Hey girl, you’re looking good. Sorry I’m a bit late, but this ship doesn’t exactly have directions,” the Paladin said, the low-tone of their voice layered in relief and tiredness. He was clutching at his side, giving occasional glances back to the door he’d come in from, but not much of the outside could be heard over the continual alarm system. It was beginning to give Keith a headache, but that was hardly reason to pull attention to himself.

The Paladin stole closer, breathing heavy, easy to hear as the gap between Human and Galra continued to lessen. From this perspective, he looked to be taller than Keith, but other than his height, armour and weird-shaped gun, the Human didn’t look like he’d be much of a threat, what with the way he was already exhausted and injured.

Keith had never seen a Human, and while this one was still hidden under armour and helmet, Keith wasn’t really all that impressed. It certainly seemed that Voltron’s victories were largely embellished before they reached central command. Within their Lions, it wasn’t hard to guess how they had taken out a Starfleet battlecruiser, but to face one on the battlefield…
Keith was feeling glad with himself that he hadn’t hoped for a truce with the spindly creatures.

“Hey, Red. You gonna open up and let me in?” The Paladin came closer, speaking to the Lion as if it had sentience of its own. Keith wanted to snigger at the childish notion, but a wash of warmth enveloped him, stronger this time, the sound of laughter light and teasing.
But no. That didn’t feel right. The Lion couldn’t… it couldn’t—

“Red?”

The lion didn’t move, nor did it give any sign that it had heard the Paladin. Undiscouraged, the Human crossed the last remaining distance until he was in front of the crimson beast. He reached up with one arm, rapping their knuckles on the force field, much like knocking on a door. Yeah, as if it were that easy—

Keith could’ve cursed out loud when he heard the soft purr of the Lion, watching with a slack jaw as the force field slowly dissolved into nothing.
No. No way! No way it could’ve been that easy!

Keith had tried for ages to get that damn force field to give, and this bloody Human comes along, taps a few times and says “please?”

No, no way! Keith is not having it!

Before the Blue Paladin could reach out and touch the Lion, Keith sprung from his position, the surprise of his poor ambush taking his opponent off guard. It wasn’t the best of advantages, but it was enough that Keith was able to dart in close enough, the flat of his blade striking the Human across his chest.
Afterall, Keith’s aim wasn’t to hinder Voltron too much. They were a necessary distraction and Keith needed them at full-fighting-strength to entertain the Emperor.

Still, the Galra’s attack took the other by surprise, the strength of his swing enforced with the momentum of his leap knocking the Paladin backwards. A stumble, and the Human tumbled to the ground. He didn’t stay down however, rolling with the motion before rising to his feet once more.

So, Humans were agile.
Keith had to remain on his guard and expect the unexpected.

Still, the Galran Commander wasn’t expecting the small handle-like contraption in the Human’s hands to change shape into an old-model repeat blaster. Three shots fired in the space of a tick and Keith’s blade only just managed to deflect the second two. The first hit him on his shoulder, but his armour saved him from taking any real damage. He still felt the blow the laser dealt, and it wasn’t something he was eager to feel again.

“Back off, or I’ll kill you,” the Paladin warned, voice steeled low and threatening.

Quaint.

And ultimately pointless, because no Galra would ever think of retreating or backing down to the Human, even if they hadn’t seen him before he adopted the charade of strength.

Keith knew he was tired. Knew he was hurt.
He wasn’t about to back down from a fight he could easily win. It was because he was stubborn, not mindless like his brethren’s “victory or death” mindset they all too willingly adopted.

Keith was nothing like them. He wouldn’t back down from this fight, even if he didn’t want to battle the Paladin. Not for fear of losing, but for the unknown thought to keeping the Red Lion and throwing the Blue Paladin back to his team so he could keep pissing Zarkon off.
Whet! This bastard was really ruining his plans.

“If you think any Galra would back down from the chance to fight a mighty paladin of Voltron, then you’re sorely mistaken.”
“No one’s taken me up on the offer so far. But there’s no harm in asking.”
“You waste your breath,” Keith spat, searching for an opening. There!

He charged in, keeping his body low to the ground. A roll took him out of reach of the gun’s barrel, a well-aimed kick at the Human’s hand and the weapon was kicked high into the air. Keith followed through with a fist, but the Human’s gaze hadn’t followed his gun like Keith hoped, but remained his foe, waiting for the second strike. He blocked it with ease, his own three-finger jab darting in, just skimming the Galra’s throat.
Whet, that would’ve hurt.

Instead of withdrawing, Keith replies with his left hand, bringing up his blade. He plans to balance it under his enemy’s chin, demand surrender then worry for the way he’s going to smuggle the little culm off the ship before any of his soldiers track him down to this room. If not, Keith will be forced to take a prisoner and his fleet will be put to the top of Voltron’s ‘wanted list’.
That wasn’t in the plan.

Neither was being disarmed.

One minute Keith’s holding his blade and in the next it’s somewhere near the Red Lion’s paw, his wrist in the Human’s grasp, instinct telling him to immobilise him. All he can do is grab back. They locked wrists with one another, one tick, two ticks, before Keith brings up a knee and boots the Human square in the chest.

“Flexible little fucker—” the Human grins, a feral grin under his visor. He’s pale, but not as pale as tales of Haggar’s Champion suggested. His features were small, petite in comparison to the Galra, his skin smooth and furless.
But his snarl is Galran and it’s the only warning Keith gets before his captive spins; the hold Keith has breaking before his arm can be snapped the wrong way. He jumps back, reeling from the kick that caught him in the ribs.
“—but I’m flexible too.”

They take their marks; Keith between the Blue and his prize.

The boy’s smile is teasing and challenging all the same, eyes glancing to his weapon, back to Keith’s blade, then Keith himself. The Galran beckons with a curl of his hands, ready to meet his opponent square on.
“Come on then. Show me just how flexible you can be.”

The Human takes the bait. He’s grinning when he charges in, left swing, right, feint and dodge.
Keith’s fist swung at mid-air, snapped back to defend from the high knee kick that would’ve landed a solid blow on his thigh. But the Paladin’s hand is too close to Keith’s rear and he had no time to pull back before a hand firmly grasps near the base of his tail, pulling hard, pulling Keith backwards – off balance.

“Lilôdaj,” the Galra hisses, crouching low in defence, his ears pressing back to his head as he bared his fangs.

It was the Human’s turn to bait him into the spar. “Now, now Kitty don’t get angry.”
Keith snarled in response. He could feel the smog of anger under his skin, the familiar heat of fury wrapping around him, his claws and fangs bared as he dived forward.
The Paladin rolled. Keith’s claws scratched at his armour, dealing no lasting damage, but showing the boy that his Galran combatant was getting serious.

Left, right, left, right again. Keith caught the flesh from the back of Human’s hand, claws carving through the weave of his glove, drawing blood. Keith felt his body tense from the shout of pain. He wasn’t meant to be hurting him. He was meant to be getting this culm out, if not all of Keith’s plans are going to crumble around him.

“You’re not getting that Lion,” the Galra cursed after dancing to the song of battle for too long, without finding a decent opening. The Human was strong; strong and agile enough to keep up with the Commander, but that only served to agitate Keith more; his window of opportunity rapidly closing. He couldn’t understand how no one had found them yet. Neither had he come to the conclusion on how he was to settle this matter without losing the Red Lion, or his disguise as Commander in the Empire.
He could let the Paladin escape of course, but that would harm his position and the faith his men had in him. Holding him prisoner was not an option, but for now that was the most preferable of choices.
Now he just had to overpower the damn culm.

“I’m taking Red with me, and you’re not going to stop me.”
“You won’t even get close to touching her. She stays with me.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it.”

The boy charged. Keith was quick enough to dance out his reach, mindful to keep his tail from the grabbing hand that reached, too close for comfort, but the Human’s attempts were fruitless, Keith nimble in his efforts to stay two steps ahead of him.

“You can’t stop us. We’ll defeat Zarkon.”
“You can’t, he’s too strong.”
Because he was. He was invincible.
Zarkon was the long-reigning supreme leader of the Empire, with little known about his weakness, or even anything that would irritate him besides failure and insubordination. Even his wife was nothing to him if casting her aside meant victory.
Besides, planning to murder the witch was far more dangerous than defying Zarkon by stealing the Red Lion from right under his nose.

“Getting tired?” the Human baited, pulling Keith’s mind back to the present. He’d got close, but the too-quick-tongued Paladin had warned him long enough for Keith to dart to the side.
It seemed his opponent was not one for silence, even during battle. And uncharacteristically, Keith replied in kind.
“Not in the slightest. I’m just biding my time. I’m not alone on this ship, but you are, and you’re outnumbered.”

A series of emotions flashed across the Human’s face: fear, worry, doubt. It answered Keith’s question about the numbers of enemies aboard his ship: just the one.

“So what? Did your ‘friends’ send you on this suicide mission? Or are you trying to be the hero and save everyone by yourself?” Hypocritical taunts, considering it was similar to what Keith was doing as he stood, surrounded by enemies on all sides.

And yet as blasé as Keith’s taunts were, his words seemed to have an effect on the other; the emotions on his face playing between a forced grin and uncertainty.
His mouth opened, closed, opened, but no taunt nor jeer was replied.

“Have you forgotten how to surrender?” Keith grinned, rolling his shoulders, showing he was still ready to fight as they circled together, eyes never leaving their opponent. “How about I help you. Repeat after me: please don’t kill me, I’m too pretty to die.”

Anger shone in the boy’s eyes, but when he spoke, he was oddly amused: “You think I’m pretty?”

The damn fool was laughing at Keith!
“Pretty stupid,” he snapped back, following the insult with a fist. It caught the boy’s chin and he fell back, but Keith didn’t chase. “You’re here, alone, with no real plan to get the Lion and get back to your team. You’ve stranded yourself on my ship.”
“Your ship?”
“Yes, my ship.”

The Human smiled; in an attempt to hide his true feelings of fear no doubt. “Then if I take you out, the fleet will fall into disarray. My friends will beat your ships and we’ll take back the Red Lion. Zarkon is as good as dead!”
Keith scoffed. “If you think that to be true, then not only are you culm, but you’re stutôdaj as well.”

He lunged, just as the Blue Paladin did; yet instead of lunging for the Galran, the Human rolled to the side, hands down, fingers curling around the cool metal hilt of Keith’s blade. Whet.

“Not… well, not whatever you called me,” he grinned, twirling his wrist to show that he wasn’t unprepared when wielding a blade as he was with a blaster.
“Definitely stutôdaj. And maybe a little lucky.”

“Yet not lucky enough.”

Out of nowhere, a hand reached down from behind, thick grubby fingers curling around the Paladin’s neck as he was lifted off the ground. No sooner had he picked up Keith’s sword, he dropped it, fingers clawing at those that curled around his neck, trying to breathe when the Galra flexed his hand and the boy’s air supply was threatened.

Keith stood straight, regaining composure, narrow eyes sent to his comrade.
“Xardin. This was my fight. You interrupted.” He hid all emotion behind a mask of indifference, knowing that the only one that could sense his fear of the intrusion to be the Red Lion. She remained sat where she had been the entire time, unmoving, and defenceless with her shields down. Shit, shit shitshitshit—

Xardin looked a little startled at the request. “My apologies Corrlux. I only sought to help you.”
He didn’t release the Human, but he did lower him enough that the boy’s toes weren’t scraping along the floor of the hangar bay, the grip lax enough that the Human could once again breathe. He began to curse the younger Galra, but he was bluntly ignored.

“The Blue Lion managed to breach the hull, but the ships chased it off. When you didn’t immediately return to the Bridge, I came to find you.”
He pulls the Human closer, tone thick with amusement. “But imagine my surprise when I find this culm on board. What happened little Paladin? Did you think sneaking in the gaps in the walls would bring you victory.” His hands curled tighter, cutting off the Human’s insults, and once again, his air.

“I know many are scared of you, but face to face, I can see now that you’re nothing more than vermin; kittul to be crushed under our boot—”
“Xardin.”

Keith’s voice carried low in the quiet; the alarms having been shut down sometime during the fight, of which the Galran hadn’t taken notice. Now there was nothing but the sounds of heavy breathing and the desperation of one almost out of air.

“Release him.”

Keith couldn’t let the boy die.
It didn’t matter that he was still technically an enemy. It didn’t matter that their foe was the same.
He knew Voltron would never accept the help of a Galran, nor would he offer his help to those that would destroy his plans. But even if there was no alliance between them, he was an asset all the same.
And Keith could not weaken a force that stood against Zarkon, no matter how few their numbers.

The Human made a noise in the Galran’s tightening grasp, evident that the creature was attempting to struggle fruitlessly.

“Release him Xardin.”
“Corrlux?”
“I am ordering you to release him.”

Xardin fixed his eyes upon his Commander, questions falling short of his lips, body lack-lustre in gloating that he had turned on the boy. Now he was just confusion and a want for understanding. “Corrlux I don’t—”
“First you interrupt my fight, and now you refuse my orders?” Keith said, marching closer. The threat was clear to the younger, who hurried to drop the Paladin and stumbled a step back, body falling into salute, eyes staring straight ahead.

The Human was already unconscious. His body crumpled, just a mass of limbs upon the hangar floor.
Without thought, or acknowledgement to his actions, Keith knelt at the boy’s side, internally cursing the armour for denying him easy access to check for a heartbeat.
He pulled the helmet from his head, rolling him to lay on his back. His hair felt similar to Keith’s fur when he brushed it from the Human’s face; quick to place a hand over his nose, and a stemmed sigh of relief given when the faint touch of breath was felt upon his palm.

“C-Corrlux?”
Whet.

“I gave you direct orders to take control of the fleet,” Keith said lowly, aware his tail flicked in agitation, unable to hide his anger from the soldier. Xardin eyed the movement, a glance to his Human captive, then back to his Commander, trying to piece together what wouldn’t fill the gaps. “I gave direct orders that we were to travel to Leuen, that Pelax would take control of the forward fleet and you would take command while I saw to the Paladin. So, tell me. Why are you here?”

Anger wasn’t a mask Keith needed to wear; he was already angry, torn from the fear of being found with the Human. Whatever plan he felt he made was snatched away by someone else’s interference. Now there was no other choice than to take the boy captive, if he was to save both their skins.
Keith would be able to keep his guise, but ferrying a lone Lion was far less conspicuous than a Lion and a Paladin and not take them to the Emperor. The crew would expect Keith to take him to Central Command: a valuable prisoner, and trophy for Zarkon.
And if he refused, and took the Human with him, then he’s simply inviting Voltron to attack, again and again and again until they have both Paladin and Lion.

Which was the best course of action. Yet not simple.
Because having the Human as a prisoner for any length of time would demand Keith personally question the boy, and he wouldn’t be able to do so as simply as asking questions. There would be no chance to build a bond of trust if Keith was forced to torture the boy for information.
And Keith doubted that Voltron wouldn’t be all too willing to ally themselves with him if they knew that he was hurting one or their team.

But what if he avoids all that?
What if he abandons his post, takes the Human, takes Red—

“You— You didn’t return,” Xardin says, still stuck in salute, fearful as he looks upon his better. “I left Chejva in charge, while I came to assist with any damage the Lion inflicted. But you weren’t at the breach and no one reported they had seen you. You said you were coming here, so I came too.”

“Your excuse doesn’t not justify your abandonment of duties. It is you who I left in charge, not Chejva. While she is fit to be responsible in my absence, I can see that you are not, Lieutenant Commander.” Keith’s voice was steel with anger, the inferred threat clear as if spoken out loud. “But not only have you rejected my leadership, but you reject my orders. Your negligence could’ve loss us the battle if the remainder of Voltron come to take back their teammate.”

“But Pelax—”
“I don’t believe Pelax can defeat Voltron, neither could he damage them enough to stop any further attack on our fleet. But it was necessary to pull back, until we could converge with another fleet to bolster our own fire power.”
The words spilled from Keith before he could give himself time to think what they could mean, hoping the rapid pace of lies would confuse Xardin enough into accepting Keith’s word like he always had and leave him to flee. The Red Lion’s shields were down, he could take her and escape, find the Blue Lion too, and ferry them all back to Voltron. It was probably a death sentence, but it was better than giving Zarkon two Lions and a Paladin.

The only one who stood in his way was Xardin.

“But the Human—”
“This Human will have vital intelligence that we can use, Xardin. You are not to harm him any further. Vrepit Sa.”

But the usual repeated response, that was almost always given as if automatically… wasn’t.

Keith looked up, meeting eyes that looked upon him with more questions. Confusion. And fear.

“Xardin. I gave you an order.”
“But why?” Xardin’s voice was soft, barely a whisper.
“Because I said—”
“You weren’t fighting him,” Xardin said, his voice louder this time. Stronger.

“I’ve seen you fight, on and off the battle field, in the arena. I watched you when we trained together, I worshipped you when I was a kit, when we were training, and you…. You…”
“Xardin—”
“You weren’t fighting him. Not seriously. Not with the intent to kill him. I watched you, I’ve always watched you. I know how strong you are, I know that that—” he said, pointing away from them to the space that had seen Keith square off to the Paladin “—that wasn’t your full strength. That wasn’t your strength at all!”
“Xardin—”

But it was too late.
Xardin had seen.

He looked to the Red Lion, to Keith and the Human he held in his arms. “You lied. This isn’t under the orders of the Emperor. He would never order the Lion’s to be sent from him. They’re the weapons he needs for absolute rule. You’re not acting under his orders, but against them.”

Xardin pulled his sword. “You’re a traitor!”

The truth was something Keith had always expected, but it did nothing to stem the momentary pang of guilt at hurting a soldier that had followed him, respected him, could’ve been a brother—

But no.
Keith couldn’t let himself feel. He couldn’t let himself regret.
Not as everything crumbled around him and he was faced with the unknown to save, not only himself, but the Human, the Red Lion, and the remainder of the undefeated universe.

“I won’t let you leave here alive!” the younger Galran yelled, all uncertainty gone from his voice as he took a stance, blade aimed for Keith’s throat. “You’re not fit to lead this fleet. Not… Not now. Not after all this,” he said, emotion tearing his voice from his throat, caught in the breaking that the one he had looked up to was not who he thought he was.
“You may have fooled everyone else, and I’ll admit, even me. But you can’t say anything now that will save you now.”

He’s shaking, caught between rage and hurt.

Keith rose slowly to his feet, hands raised in hopes that Xardin would listen. He’s a strong soldier, a good soldier. If Keith can convince him. If he can—

“But I’ve long since respected you, followed you, looked up to you, so I’ll let you draw your sword.”
The kit is crying now, shaking, his tail wrapped around one of his legs in despair. He raises his head, swallowing the break in his voice. “Fight me, Corrlux, and I will show you the might of the Galra whom you have turned your back on. I will make you regret it.”

“Xardin—”
“Arm yourself! I will not give you a second chance.”

True to his word, Xardin does not move until Keith has taken the sword from the ground. He holds it steady, tip pointing down with the hopes to still talk sense into the younger. “Xardin—”
But Xardin would not listen. He launched himself across the space between them, Keith slow in reacting but quick enough that Xardin’s own sword did not cut him.

Facing Xardin was nothing like facing the Paladin. Whereas the Human had sought victory through the desire of claiming the Red Lion, Xardin fought with vengeance, fury and a hurt that burnt like hatred; as hot as Keith’s for his tainted birth-rite. It was a pain they shared, but Xardin would not accept any similarity after such a betrayal.
His sword, pulsating with the hue of the Galran Empire, carved clean through the air, thirsting for Keith’s blood. But metal met metal as Keith parried with his own weapon, the sounds of swords clashing filling the quiet hangar.

Xardin pushed Keith back, back towards the Lion, his strength and energy not mired by an earlier battle. But he lacked experience and the ability to calm his mind when facing a dangerous adversary.
With every wound the younger inflicted, Keith replied with three. Light wounds, shallow wounds, because the culm still has a heart and he may want to believe that he cared not for the Galran Empire, but it said nothing to his care for his Lieutenant Commander, who had followed him through the ranks.
Any true soldier wouldn’t care for an enemy, but then Keith never considered himself to be just like the other Galra.
He was different. He wasn’t blinded by lies.

And even as Keith told this to his subordinate, useless, and a waste of time, it didn’t stop him from entertaining the hope that Xardin would see reason.
But why would he? Why would any of them?

It wasn’t like Keith hadn’t tried. When he was a Kit, and he defied those that raised him, taught him, punished him when he refused to believe their teachings that Galra were the future and the only future for the Universe.
But no-one listened.

No one ever listened.

So why was it that Keith continued with the pointless effort in trying to explain to Xardin that what he believed was wrong? It was more than just hope for his own sake, but hope that he wouldn’t be forced to kill the younger, that was pure but corrupt all the same. It was the hope that Keith would no longer be alone in his battle against the Empire
Whatever it was, Xardin didn’t think it something worth speaking upon.

“There is nothing you can say to justify what you’ve done! You’re not fit to be called Galra!”

And even though it was a thought that occupied as much of Keith’s thoughts as fighting alone, there was some sort of feeling, reminiscent to hurt, when he heard those words.
It had always been a point questioned by bullies and ones that thoughts themselves better, stemmed from Keith’s lack-of-height and the difference in his way of thinking, acting, being.
Keith’s fist would attest that wasn’t the case. His blade was what stood for him now. “You’re playing a dangerous game Xardin. You fight for a tyrant, an oppressor. He’s corrupted everyone with fear and delusions.”
The words brought only anger. “I am not afraid. Not of the Humans, not of Voltron, and certainly not of you!”

Xardin charged again, launching himself forward, fury and fire his allies as he saw his blade stab for his Commander. But Keith was nimble, and his blade caught handle and hilt, turning the sword to carve the air, Xardin toppling forward from surprise. He didn’t lose his footing; the effort of years training saw him feinting. Keith did not fall for it, and pushed Xardin back, pulling blood from his cheek and a cry from his lips. “Curse you, you half-breed scum!”

Swords clashed, again and again, Keith fighting for ground and the chance to pull back from this fight. Xardin knew, but he had nothing to lose but his life.
So, when Keith tried to run, faking dodging in the attempts to gain ground to the Red Lion, Xardin knew where to strike. Not his Commander, that was too far from his reach, his blade and his fury.

No.

Who better to target than the unconscious Human that fought beside him, whose very existence was a bane to Zarkon’s rule? If Xardin eliminated one of the Paladin’s of Voltron, then even if he died by the Commander’s blade, hasn’t he assured victory for the Galra?
Their moral code may be “Victory or Death,” but Xardin could gladly welcome both with a final strike of his blade.

And so, his sword swung, not for one he had long looked up to.

But for the Human that lay at his feet.

Chapter Text

“Curse you, you half-breed scum!” Xardin screamed, voice torn from the emotion of betrayal, the knife in his back more painful than anything he had felt before, far more damaging than any of his childhood tormentors had ever dealt as he faced the only one he had ever truly looked up to.
How? How could Keith do this? To him? To the Galra?

The Commander was strong; he was one of Zarkon’s best. And still, it wasn’t good enough.
Still the culm had to turn his back on the Empire.

But no, no, it couldn’t be true. It couldn’t!

The pair of them met in the middle of the silence, their swords cracking like lightening underneath the storm of Xardin’s trust breaking. Again and again, Xardin brought himself forward, pushing hard, pushing harder, his mind torn between fighting for revenge, and fighting for the truth.
And his Commander, foolish and disbelieving of the kit’s strength was falling back, losing ground.

Xardin pressed him.

His mind pressed too. Was this just a ploy? A strategy to earn the Paladin’s trust, to simply pretend to join them, before destroying them from the inside.
But if so, how come the Commander had not shared his plans with him? And what did it have to do with the Red Lion. The secrets, the lies, the questions—

Corrlux rolled, the agility and speed taking him clean from Xardin’s reach. But that wasn’t what halted the kit. It was… wrong, somehow.
Xardin had fought the elder enough times to know he attacked close up, got in, inside his opponent’s guard and used his speed, his agility to dodge, duck and flip his opponents on their tails before they could follow him with their eyes. So why—

And then it was clear.

Corrlux wasn’t taking him seriously. To him, Xardin was still just an unruly kit whose claws had got too long. To him, he was just another to be toyed with in this fools’ game of betrayal and treachery.

But Xardin was so much more than that. He was a loyal soldier, proud to serve the Galra, reliable and devoted, through and through. He knew where his loyalties lie and what was asked of him in the face of such.

Victory or death.

But here, now, there was no choice that had to be made. Not one or the other; there was no sacrifice thought to be unworthy and foolish. Because with one final strike of his blade, Xardin could welcome both. Victory before death.

And so, Xardin swung his sword, not for the one he had once called Commander, but for the Human that lay at his feet.


“NO!”

Keith didn’t understand the nature of caring that came over him, seeing his body move without conscious thought, abandoning the distance he had gained to throw himself between blade and the unresponsive boy. Unarmed and defenceless, Keith used his body as a shield, thanking the stars for his armour that took most of the blow. Most, but not all.

Xardin’s blade cleaved downwards, the blade edge finding purchase in flesh where two armaments joined and parted to allow movement of Keith’s legs. It was a weakness in his suit; one that Xardin’s sword exploited.
Keith’s cry of pain was only short-lived, the mirth of his foe just so when Keith’s closeness allowed him to plant the hilt of his blade deep into Xardin’s own weakness. It gained him distance and a wariness that the younger had all but abandoned during their fight, thinking victory was assured.
But Keith wouldn’t fall so easily.

In fact, he wouldn’t fall at all.

“Weak,” the Galran Soldier yelled, ignoring the pull of his thigh as flesh tore when he stretched out, over the human, instinctual and protective. “You can’t beat me so you aim for him. But you can’t even beat him unless he’s unconscious.”
“And who made it so?” Xardin snarled back, blood on his lips, blood on his hip and hand as he pressed paw to the gash that wasn’t deep enough to inflict lasting damage but enough that it was going to hurt for the length is took to heal.

“You snuck up on him, his eyes on me and your hand around his throat before he had the chance to notice you were there,” Keith growled low. “It’s nothing but cowardice.”
“Like you would be able to best him,” the other hissed, the fear and pain of the wound getting to him, ears flattening back, eyes flashing dark with a threat he could not support. “You hadn’t defeated him before I came.”
“But you interrupted. That was your fault. And you stole my victory.”

Xardin waved his blade between them. “Then come steal it back.”

Invitation accepted, the Galra launched himself across the divide, a guttural cry wretched him from the pain of burning muscle. Perhaps the wound was deeper than Keith thought.
He held his blade out to the side, like the broken wing of a bird taking flight. Keith’s dagger was small in comparison to Xardin’s blade, but it was enough for him; his skill and speed the other weapons in his arsenal that would be used to take down this overconfident kit.

Dagger and sword clashed, parried, blocked and bunted.

Xardin darted back and in, back and past, feet stealing distance from his kin, closing between himself and the Paladin beyond their sparring ring. He sword levelled out, ready to attack, leaving himself open. “Fool,” Keith thundered, but he was the fool to believe the stupid mistake. He didn’t think to pull his momentum as Xardin spun, ball of his heel the point of turning and the blade, spear-like, flat to the point angled with the Commander’s gut.
There was no time to dodge.

Keith twisted mid-momentum. He couldn’t move from the path of the blade, but he could choose where the blade would strike. His hip; the marrow of bone his natural defence, protecting his gut and a deep wound that would’ve surely secured Xardin’s victory.
Dahast! Keith had granted the younger another handicap, and the pain hurt worse than the first strike, but he wasn’t out of the fight. Not by a long shot.

A cry of pain is celebratory to the older, his dagger once again dripping with blood as his blade drew along the underside of the younger’s arm.
Keith can hear a sound in the back of his mind, reminiscent of a purr, or a growl, but he dismisses it in favour of dancing into Xardin’s reach, too close to be bunted, enough that the hilt of his dagger slams down painfully on the kit’s skull. Xardin stumbled back.

“What are you doing Corrlux? You’d throw everything away. For what? For him?” He gestures to the Human with his blade, gazes breaking when the Paladin groans from his place on the floor. “They’re weak. They’re all weak and you’d join them. For what?”
“At least they stand against Zarkon. Not like all our kin! They’re just lilôda; a dog to fetch a stick and nothing more to him.”

Xardin roars, as if the words are a direct insult to him, and not the Emperor. “You used to stand for him, you fought for him—
“I never fought for him,” Keith snarled, bitter-poison of anger on his tongue, rage clouding behind his eyes like noxious smoke. “I used him. I used the power pretending to stand for him would bring me. I did this for the sake of the Marmora. for the sake of Zarkon’s defeat. Never for him.”

Xardin doesn’t understand. He is too caught up in the torrent of his world turning in on itself to give Keith a chance to explain, to stop and take a breath and listen.

“No. You’re lying,” he yells, as if shouting the words as loud as he can would make it true and all this nonsense of separate sides would be just dust under the carpet. “You were like a brother to me—”
“The Galra don’t care for family ties,” Keith roared back, his blade following suit. But that sliver of weakness inside him pulled on the strings of his body; limp and puppet like as the strike swung short, giving Xardin ample time to dodge. Still he screamed and swore and cursed Keith’s name.

“I trusted you! I followed you! And this is what I get for allowing myself to think of becoming like you?” Fresh tears flow like rivers, Keith’s chest tightening at the way Xardin’s voice cannot help but crack. “It’s how you fell. But I won’t stoop to your level. I know where my loyalties lie!”

Keith throws himself forward, without thought or feeling.
He can’t. He can’t let himself think, let himself feel.
If not, he’ll remember the years he spent growing up with the kit chasing after his tail. He’ll remember his own interventions when he saw his pride-mate under the boot of another. He’ll remember wanting to tell Xardin the truth, to have another by his side.

Keith cannot remember.
The fault of emotion will cloud his judgement, pull his attack and leave him to pick up the pieces left from the Galran sword.

Xardin’s eye shifts between Galra and Human, a snarl pulling his lips to bare his teeth. The glare betrays the change of focus, the target no longer his Commander, but before Xardin can move, Keith does.
He swings his dagger in a wide arc, legs moving to take him between enemy and he who remains on the floor. Keith can hear him, hear the pain in his throat as he chokes on breaths of air. “Get to the Lion,” Keith orders, much to Xardin’s dismay.
But still tangled with the weight of losing his conscious, the Human remains disorientated. He lifts his head, but it’s slow, his body showing no signs of following. There’s no way the Human would be able to get up and run under his own wind. It was up to Keith to get him up and get him out, away from this hell hole that he’s been trapped in for too long.

There’s no plan, there’s no moment to stop, to think, to decide the best course of action as enemies flood in, called by the sound of metal on metal and the absence of Commander and Lieutenant Commander.
“Corrlux!” one of the guard yells. They all stall at the sight in front of them, many turning blades on the Paladin, two already charging forward—

“He has betrayed us,” the Commander shouts.
There’s no moment to wait between outnumbered and executed, as Keith barks out lies in quick-cut succession. Fear was no longer a part of the equation. Anger neither. Just the blinding need to survive.
And if he had to turn on all of them, then so be it.

“Xardin is in league with the Human. Contain him!” the Commander ordered, jumping back behind the line of soldiers that knew nothing of Keith’s betrayal.

Seconds.
That’s all he had.

“No, it’s not me, it’s him,” Xardin screamed, swinging blindly with his sword to keep the soldiers at bay.
They didn’t listen. Of course they wouldn’t; the words are the same as any traitors, weightless and weak, securing the unsheathing of their weapons as the Galran soldiers surrounded the Lieutenant Commander.

Seconds.

Keith uses the confusion to rush to the Human, still slumped, heavy pants coming too quick, too fast to let him catch his breath. “Get up,” he orders, voice low, hurried, turning back to the guards but Xardin still keeps their gaze.
The Human is still disorientated, but not enough that he blindly accepts Keith’s hand. He tries to push him away, eyes trying to focus on him. He glowers. “Fuck off.”

Keith ignores him, well aware that his time is running out and he can’t waste it arguing. Xardin is still shouting. Which means the soldiers haven’t moved in to detain him. Which means they were listening to his words—

“I said get up,” Keith hissed again, moving in closer, one hand under the boy’s neck, another under his legs. He expected the boy to be heavy, considering his size, but there was something odd, and strangely unnerving about the way Keith could lift him, pull him closer, ignoring the way a hand pushed against his chest, the chill of a curse falling upon his ears.
“Don’t fucking touch me,” the Human spat, but the darkness fights him for his mind and his body loses the willpower to fight.
He falls still in Keith’s arms.

Seconds.

Keith doesn’t stop, doesn’t look back, doesn’t do anything but run to where the Red Lion sits waiting, the purr of her voice in his mind caught between amusement and something akin to worry. If Keith had the mind to care, he might’ve paid attention.

Mother’s mercy grants Keith an ally in the form of the giant Altean Lion, that bends to him when he rushes to her feet. He barely registers her movements, the cries of the soldiers behind him and his own garbled noise when the jaw opened and closed, him and his quarry safe inside.
Or perhaps safe was the wrong word, because now Keith is trapped in an ancient war-machine, surrounded by the enemy that will see him for the traitor he is, and he’s got less than three ticks to figure out how to pilot this damn thing. Even less time to find the bloody cockpit.

But before Keith can even think, the floor beneath him lurches, and he can do little to stop his descent to the ground, cringing when he lands on the Human he had been carrying. The Human makes no noise though, so he’s still unconscious, and Keith realises he’s about to be as well, as the world shifts again, and he is thrown backwards into a wall.
Shit, shit, shitshitshitshit—

The inside of the lion is dark; shadows only fought with the dim glow of red that shines from little pockets of energy imbedded into the upper ceiling. Everything else is just metal walls, sharp corners and hard floors that sees Keith falling again and again as war erupts in the hangar. The heat is back in his head, that laughter that spurred him to fight, but there’s more. A voice is calling to him, the memory of words on the front of his mind, but he can’t understand, he doesn’t understand—

“Save us,” he says, before the floor rises up to meet him and he’s out cold.


He awoke in stages. Before his conscious could fully register who he was, where he was or why he was even there, his body felt something first: An ache, a discomfort.

Pain.

Pain, sharp and digging, like needles with minds of their own that burrowed under his skin, into his spine, into his bones, into his soul.
It’s the only thing that Keith registers as the reality around him pushes through the dark sludge of unconsciousness. It clings to his being, making his arms heavy, legs heavy, everything heavy.

And hurting.

Through all the pain and the tar, Keith sought understanding. He wasn’t in his quarters. The unfamiliar darkness around him was not what he was used to when waking; the familiar battleship-purple walls, floors and lights extinct from this reality.

So… dreaming?

No, no, Keith was in too much pain to be dreaming. Even with the regimental simplicity of his Commander quarters, there was comfort when he slept that didn’t lead to the feeling of waking upon a bed of nails. And Keith was sure he wasn’t waking. More like something was giving him back his consciousness…

The darkness around does little to give him an idea to where he is. A hand pressing again the more-solid shadow next to him tells him the cold, sleek thing is some sort of wall. It’s metal, regardless, and when Keith shoves it, it won’t move. So; wall.

The wall, for all it’s being of hard and solid and unmoving, doesn’t hold in context an unpleasant feeling that would urge him to move. The Galran’s brain doesn’t think he needs, to, still succumbed to the numbness of lingering concussion that welcomes sleep, trying to drag Keith back into the early state of unconsciousness.
Keith didn’t want to get up. He didn’t want to move at all. But he knew he had to.

Moving is hard, when the one trying to move is disorientated.

At first, Keith didn’t even know where his body was. It was as if his head was here and his body was somewhere else. Probably in bed, recovering from another brutal training session beating grunts into shape who thought being under Corrlux’s order provided chances to skip out on training and duties.
It certainly feels like Keith has been fighting, but who he is having trouble remembering. For all he knew, it could’ve well been the wall.
Judging by the thrum of his headache bashing into his forehead, it was clear who stood victor.

The more he thought about it, the more Keith began to realise that he was wrong. His body wasn’t anywhere else. His body was here, laid on the cold floor, in pain and aching. His back certainly didn’t appreciate the stone-bed, nor did his legs that were awkwardly twisted up, off the floor as they hung over another slumped dark-shadow. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something the darkness could reveal.
He wishes the darkness would hide his pain at least, but Keith is in no luck there. He can feel the buzz of injury radiating softly from both of his legs, in the area around his knees as if he had attacked something with the joints without bracing first. There was an irritating ache all up his left side, and a heavy stickiness that clings to his stomach and thigh. Water?
But the unmistakable smell of blood, pungent and strong, tells Keith that it is not the case. Old blood or new blood he could not tell, but it made him feel sick. It was in the air. He couldn’t breathe—

Ignore it, ignore it. Needlessly worrying will do nothing but exhaust you.

Keith decides his logic is sound, but ignoring a could-be-fatal-wound is as illogical as it was to submit himself to the want of sleep and let himself bleed out. So, with his eyes still closed, and hands limp as not to irritate his aching back any more than needed, Keith searched his body mentally, trying to rifle through all the pain and pick one that felt like the familiar “stab wound” he was used to.
The burning ghost of blade piercing skin drew him to his left thigh, and another moment or two granted him the relief knowing that the stickiness wasn’t growing. The cut was clotting.

With great difficulty, Keith managed to force his eyes open again, not remembering when he had let them close. But like last time, it doesn’t do him much good; the darkness still clouding around him. Its pitch black.

Not quite.

A measly glimmer of light shone like filaments of gold from cracks in a space to the far right. It did little to fight the dark, but there was light, and when Keith was able to pull his body from this awkward slumped mess, he would have a goal.

And yet, the temptation was too much to ignore, and Keith relented with the weight on his eyes as they closed once more. A ghosting breath of peace was given when the heaviness inside his head faded a little, the pressure around him ebbing like air slowly leaking from a balloon. But the pain on his body was still too great to be ignored. Arms, legs, chest, feet, wrists, neck, head, toes, knees, fingers, stomach, back.
Everything ached.
Everything hurt.

Come on Keith. You have to get up. Keith heard his own voice berating him from somewhere in the part of his conscious that wasn’t numbed by the ghost of concussion.
You’ve got to get up.
Laying around would invite danger. Laying around while bleeding out would invite enemies. He was practically handing them a gift-wrapped golden platter with his head on it.

Screw that.

Keith forced his eyes open again and trained to keep them that way. It made his head throb, his eyelids fighting him every step of the way, but he would endure it.

Slowly, after what seemed forever, the Galra could see some shadows hardening, some softer almost. Empty.
Shapes began to form in the room, casting depth into Keith’s dark world. He fought pain to sit himself up, cursing under his breath when he pushed off the weird shape that had been his leg rest, and now he’s huffing and panting with his back leant against one of the three walls he can discern from the darkness. He’s in a corridor.
A slanted corridor, he notes, because while it’s dark, he can still feel that the weight isn’t so much pulling him down but pulling him more backwards than anything.
Not like that helped.

A groan somewhere in front of the boy made the Galra flinch from shock. Pain rocked through his body at the movement, but Keith forced himself to ignore it, lest he succumb to the swooning that took his vision and made the darkness twist.

Instead, the boy shifted his weight to the right, away from the aching, so that his body was more comfortable and he could search for the source of the noise. It’s the bulky shape that was supporting Keith’s legs. Not so much a shape, but another.

The Human.

Who else would it be? Keith didn’t escape Xardin with anyone else in tow, nor would anyone else be his cellmate if they were to be captured – which was the probable outcome considering Keith hadn’t been able to pilot the Red Lion from the ship and trying to escape with Voltron’s Blue Paladin would cement suspicions that Xardin was telling the truth and their Corrlux was the traitor instead.

But then, if Keith was imprisoned, where was the familiar battle-ship purple. And where’s the energy cuffs?
And why is Keith still wearing his armour?

So, they’re not prisoners then. And if they weren’t caught, and in fact by some miracle the Altean war-machine freed herself from the Galra’s clutches, then that means they’re both still inside the Red Lion’s maw.
Which would explain the unfamiliar surroundings, but not much else because Keith doesn’t want to make assumptions. Doing so might just cost him his life.
He hasn’t got anything to go on except for thoughts from a jumbled memory still trying to wade through the swamp of post-unconscious-state.

The Human groaned again.

Slowly, and focusing on ignoring all the pain that he felt, Keith pushed his body further against the wall. He wanted to cry out, to swear, and to cuss, but Keith didn’t have the energy. He just bit down on his lip, his tongue tasting the metallic taste of blood as his fangs drew fresh blood.
The Galra didn’t care. He was just trying to stay upright, his hand searching for his knife in case his fellow companion had more fight in him and decided killing off the Galra who had just saved his ass was more important that finding out where they were, if they were in danger, and what their plan next was—

Before Keith can even begin to formulate a plan, the Human groaned again.

And now he’s starting to move. Like Keith, the boy was in pain, his shifting accompanies by several choice cusses. Or Keith presumes them to be cusses, going on the Human’s tone, but not being anywhere but blank, in terms of knowing normal Terran-phrases, he’s got little to compare it too.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck that—ugh, ow,” he says, shifting enough that Keith figures he’s sitting up as well. Something knocks and a glow hums into life where they boy’s visor functions shift. Flicker. Die.

“Damn it. Stupid, fucking— Where the hell am I?”
“In the Red Lion, presumably.”

And, okay, maybe Keith’s blasé comment wasn’t the best approach into mutual conversation; duly noted when the Human froze, precisely three ticks before he threw his body in the opposite direction and collided with the other wall. He hit it with some force.
“Ow.”
“Human meet wall. By the way, out is in that direction,” Keith drawled, waving a hand in the direction of the receding line of light. He shouldn’t’ve bothered really. He didn’t see his own hand move in the darkness and there was no way this weaker, lesser-sighted Human could’ve seen it either.

“Who the fuck are you?” the Paladin growls, but his tone sounds more like ‘what are you?’ He’s all poison and spit, anger bristling upon his skin like it will scare Keith away or something. Instead, it just makes him smirk to himself. It’s got nothing to do with the warmth coiling in his gut knowing that the Human isn’t dead. Nope. No chance.

“Apparently I’m the idiot that saved your ass. Be grateful,” Keith growls. He never held himself as a diplomat, but anyone capable of thought would know pissing off the other party wasn’t anyway to breed peace. Neither was physical violence, considering their earlier spar aboard Keith’s battleship. No longer his, of course, considering that he’s abandoned the Empire.

“Fuck you,” comes the reply. “You’re that fucking Galra scum that took Red from us. And what now? Congrats, you’ve got yourself a Paladin.” It’s not just anger that rings clear in the Human’s voice, but the shivering of fear; running unsettled beneath his mask like water beneath the frozen shells of ice-lakes.
He felt more than he allowed himself to show; an odd notion to Keith who only knew anger, impatience and tiredness in all his years with his kin.
Fear was beaten out of him when he was but a kit; he knew its weakness and wouldn’t let it fool him into the freezing that holds fast his fingers, so they can’t reach his blade, stilling his feet so that he can’t retreat from danger, his mouth tightly shut so that the beast will hear nothing when it kills him—

“If you want to torture me, you’re going to be wasting your time. I’m not going to say anything if you do. I don’t care what you throw at me, I won’t betray my friends.”

Commendable.
Stupid, but commendable.

“I’m not going to torture you, idiot,” Keith hisses, the pain in his side suddenly tight. Fuck, shit, he needs to stop the bleeding. “Yeah right,” the darkness says. And okay, he might be an idiot, but the Human isn’t gullible enough to take Keith at his first word. Which, adds points in his corner, but that’s not exactly helpful to Keith right now… Who really should get a move on because he’s not sure if the wetness of blood is growing or it’s just matting his fur.
He can afford to ignore the Human as long as he sits still while Keith searches for something to patch himself up with.

But moving stirs his companion; the creaking of his armour and the hiss of pain enough warning that, even in the darkness, the Human knows that the Galra is now standing. The Human rears, fearing danger.

“Don’t come near me,” he snarls; a wild animal trapped with nothing more than its bark and bite to defend itself.
Keith just ignores him. He focuses instead on aching limbs, the burning of his gut and the tear in his side, the steady sludge of clotting blood that drops from the gash in his armour to splatter on the metal floor. And great, isn’t that a wonderful image to stick in his head.
Another splatter and Keith’s stomach churns like it wants to join in.

“W-what are you doing? I said stay away from me!”
“Shut up. I’m—I’m…” but Keith can hardly get the words out. The pain is a lot worse standing. Not unbearable, but enough that he would’ve preferred to just bleed out instead.

The boy is still throwing curses.

Keith just does that thing where he ignores what doesn’t need his attention. In this case, it’s the Human, who won’t be going anywhere in a while considering he was recently experiencing a case of unconsciousness, and he’s probably bumped himself enough it’ll be a while before he can fight his way to his feet and be any sort of danger to the Galra that is on his feet.

Keith breathes through his nose only, teeth clamped firmly to stop any sound escaping. He’s dizzy, he knows it, but whether that’s due to the throbbing inside his skull or the damp making its way down his leg, he’s yet to decide. All he knows is that, even with the darkness enveloping him, he can see it swooning this way and that until it’s all one tumbled mess of darkness.
He’s close to knocking himself out on the wall, but a second hand, previously putting pressure on the gash in his side saves him.

It’s all just one step at a time.

He makes it to the lion’s maw.
And the maw opens.

One minute, Keith is stood at the opening mouth of the ancient Altean Beast, and the next, he’s flat on his stomach, the breath punched out of his lungs following a hard shove from behind and the gracious arms of the floor that catches him when he falls.
It catches his face, his arms, the brush of his fur dragging on sharp, unforgiving rocks that dig into his palms where they fly forward to save himself slamming into the earth. He’s too slow to do much more than save his head from another bashing.

But there’s no pause for breath, no moment to spare when the Galra feels the fur on his neck stand on end and Keith’s instincts scream for him to roll. He does, quick, hands under him and shoving at the ground, forcing himself into a roll that narrowly avoids the heavy weight of the Paladin that had lunged for him again, his helmet held aloft as his weapon to hit Keith with.
Or, would’ve, if the Galran Soldier hadn’t dodged to the side in time.

Before he can try again, Keith’s on his feet, breathing hard, sweat on his brow as the heat of the planet consumes them both.

They’re on Venris, stranded next to the Red Lion that lies lifeless on her side, unable to stand from the crash that saw her level trees and mountains. To Keith, there is no doubt.
If he had the chance to look, the Galran Soldier would’ve recognised the landscape and surrounding flora from several segment detail he used to skim through when the late hours got too boring for his forced sleep-cycle, and the boy had nothing better than to do than read through other planet’s scientific discoveries – the Galra were too busy conquering the known universe to do any scientific discoveries of their own, but that didn’t stop the Commander from getting bored.

Venris was a volatile, unstable planet. Her core, corrupt from over-mining of her natural resources had caused a shift in the chemical makeup of flora, turning them against one another just to survive. Beyond the blank stone plateau and destruction of Red’s crash landing, tall spires of purple flora stretched up, twisted under gnarled vines and the parasitic plants of luminous orange Vartan bulbs, some already burst from where Red had taken out their supports.
Luckily the poisonous spores that would suffocate both Galra and Human alike had been swept away in the harsh wind, hot and humid, like a giant was breathing down their necks.
But sightseeing was a leisure not granted to Keith, currently trying to evade from the Human who was deadest on murdering him. Literally.

The Human is snarling, growling, cussing out Keith with every Terran term he can think of; his face contorted into a gruesome caricature of a man as he leaps from where Keith had kicked him in hopes of forcing space.
Feral, the Galra thinks, because the boy surely looks as such, with the way he runs, topples onto all fours every time Keith swings, misses, swings again.

The Human replies in kind, with blunted fingers scraping against the Galran’s armour.
If he had claws, he’d be deadly.

Keith knocks the boy back; a well-aimed kick that connected with the centre of his chest. But instead of falling, the boy uses the momentum to throw himself back up, fingers curling around loose scree that become projectiles that Keith is forced to bat away before they find their mark.

The first cuts him above his eye.
The second catches him off his forearm, but it doesn’t break his skin.
The third was easily caught, but that distraction cost him a blow to his chest; the Human tackling him where Keith had scrambled on the loose rocks to keep his footing. He squeezed, arms tangling around him, tighter and tighter.
A spike of fear, foreign, unknown, surged in the soldier as pain coursed through his body, through the wound in his side, his spent muscles, body cracking when the Paladin flexed and began to crush.
He was strong. Far stronger than Keith would’ve presumed considering he had already fought the boy and seen him limping into the hangar. Something different was driving him this time, and Keith couldn’t help the ghosting fear that brushed up against him.

Reports from Galra had rarely faced the Human’s out of their war-machines. There was little known about their strength, their speed, their stamina, their ability to cast aside pain of the sake of self-preservation.
And here, alone with no ally to side with him or save him, Keith would be just another victim as the Paladins scoured the Universe for their remaining Lion: the last key for forming Voltron.

One blunted hand finds blood and Keith howls.
He drops, the strength of the fight stolen when the Human strikes again, the gash on his side more of a weakness than he anticipated as it is targeted. The Human himself was far more deadly now that he was cornered, alone, and not as injured as Keith had predicted. The fool.

And as he lays there, chest down, pinned beneath the one that will grant him death, the soldier wonders of the backwater planet in the system that no one dared to take a second look at. If they were this ruthless, this savage, strong enough to waken the Altean Beasts and command them through the stars, then perhaps there is hope of Zarkon’s destruction after all.

Death does not come.

Instead, the weight of the Human shifts above him.
Keith cannot help but turn his head, ears flicking to the new sounds that claws its way past deep panting and the sound of skittering rocks, sent dancing from where they had been kicked during a fruitless effort to throw he who holds on and won’t let go.

Keith feels wet on the back of his neck. Blood?
More panting, coming sharp and quick, the phantom breeze of air ruffling the tips of his sweat-soaked fur, heavy on his neck and his body when he pulls and it won’t listen, won’t heed his demands—
“Move and I’ll rip your throat out with my teeth,” comes the threat, cold and low. Yet the ferocity with which it is spoke was not as intense as the snapping jaws hounding at Keith’s neck during their fight. When then it was sure-fire death if he got caught, now there was only a warning; doused in exhaustion, pulling the gruff bark into a threat that doesn’t match the fire of the Blue Paladin.

And yet, Keith bows to the will of the Human. He does not move.
Every fibre in his being screams at his decision, the predator inside him keening at the thought of bowing his head, revealing his neck to prey, yet Keith does not move.
He didn’t make a sound when the grip on his throat tightened. He felt like a kit, who was held by the scruff as the older ones yowled at him for disobeying, yet now the grip holds the threat of death and not just a few lashes and a day without food.
So, he remained perfectly still, waiting for the Human to make his move.

If he tried to kill Keith, then he’d fight back. Naturally.
But if the Human wanted to talk…

The Galra waits, thinking, ear flicking as he hears, more than sees, the movements of the Voltron Soldier, still astride his back, hands moving. One grips Keith’s throat, but there’s no power; only a firm grasp that warns him as much as the rasping voice, choking on the air that cannot quiet get into his lungs. Are there still spores? Is that what stole the fight from the Human so quickly?

The Human moves again, a hand slamming into Keith’s shoulder, but it doesn’t feel like its mean to hurt him. More like—

Keith can still feel his breath, ghosting on the back of his neck, upon his head, making his ears flick and twitch like they would against the midday sun. He sounds tired, but letting himself pass into oblivion with a potential threat free to slip from his gasp is folly; Keith will have to be dragged down with him.

But the fingers, blunted, bleeding, hidden under thick-weave gloves of his Paladin armour, never turn inwards, never tighten around Keith’s throat. He doesn’t speak, doesn’t spur the other to do anything other than try and catch his breath—

“You,” the boy says, voice shaky yet firm, trying to hide the irrefutable exhaustion that pulls at them both. “You didn’t— We were fighting. And then we weren’t.”
There isn’t a question, per say, but there’s room for Keith to speak and he takes it. “We were interrupted.” His words hurt, pulled through a tight throat and tightening fingers.

“Then why are we here? Why are we with Red and not—not…”
“I told you, I saved you,” Keith says, straining when the Human grips tighter. But the damn kittul asked the question so he shouldn’t be surprised that he’s getting answers.

“Why would you save me? You’re Galra.”

“Half,” Keith says, spitting the word like the poison it is. A chill slithers down his arms, red flashing behind his eyes at the pain of that singular word, that had always been used against him, and yet it had kept him sane when he watched upon those of his kin and could not fathom their ignorance.

“Half what?”
“Half Galra. I’m not who you think I am and I’m not trying to kill you.”

“Why not?”

And Keith, who had lain still for far too long, shifted so that the Human fell from his back. He sat himself up, stared the boy in the eye and told him, “because I want to stop the Empire before they destroy everything. I don’t believe in their propaganda and I don’t support the Emperor any more than I can throw him.”

The Human, was speechless. He had scrambled when thrown, ready to continue the fight. But there must’ve been something he saw that stopped him, because Keith wasn’t tackled to the ground for a second time.
They just sat on the plateau, staring at one another, breathing heavy, neither of them backing down.

Because as much as they are not allies, neither are they enemies.
They bought fought against the same adversary, both seeking to keep the Red Lion from Zarkon’s grasp. But Keith doubted the four renegade Humans’ capabilities. He still didn’t trust them to be able to defeat Zarkon, but there was more chance than he presumed after having danced toe to toe with the Blue Soldier.

The Human isn’t as easy to back down however. “You could’ve killed me. Why didn’t you kill me?”
He’s fighting with what he knows, and what he knows shouldn’t be. The one he fights is Galra. Half or, whatever. Who cares. He is the enemy.
And yes, that was true, they’d even fought, upon the battleship when Lance’s focus had been to find Red and take her back to the castle. But when their fight had been interrupted… When another caught him by the throat and threw him, he had been vaguely aware that another protected him. Was it…? Had it been this Galra?
Had he stood against his kin, drawn blood and abuse… For what? To save him?

But no. That can’t be.
Because he’s Galra.

This is a trick, a ploy, a trap of some sort that will hurt him. If not now, then later, when he lures in the team who search for their missing Paladin.
And they’ll come. Of course they will.
If not for the screw up that has abandoned himself in the Galra clutches, but for the Red Lion their supposed “paladin” failed to procure.
And it would be Lance’s fault when the team are captured, or killed, when they come.

Lance is too weak to fight the Galra now. And although he wants to, begging for the strength that will wind his fingers around the throat of the enemy, he can’t. Not just for the weakness his birth bred him, but for the niggling that sits somewhere at the base of his neck; an odd twinge that won’t let him completely abandon that thought that he risked his life to save mine.
Neither would be here, he knows, able to remember the confusion of the soldier telling him to get up, telling him to run, carrying him when Lance could not stand.

They sit, staring at one another, for what felt like hours. It wasn’t, but to Lance that’s what it felt like.
And the longer they sit, the longer he grows restless.

“Just stay the fuck away from me, or I really will kill you.”

And with that, Lance stands and walks across the turned earth back to the Red Lion, disappearing inside her maw, without so much as a glance to the Galra he leaves on the rocks.

For first contact with Voltron, Keith didn’t think it went too bad.

Chapter Text

There are two things that Keith detests in the universe above all others.
The first and foremost being Emperor Zarkon and his legion of mindless drones, and their insatiable need to claim dominion over the Universe.

The other was rain.

It made Keith’s fur matted and heavy, and his ears never ceased their flicking to relieve the water droplets that poured from the tips, down his cheeks and jowls.
The rain always brought with it the chill and an unshakable damp that seemed to soak into him, beyond fur and skin, but into bone that would chill him for days long since he had preened his fur back into its glossy state.

Regardless, the Galra hated the downpour and preferred to spend its duration tucked into the shelter of his own finding, ignoring the taunts of the rain that laughed at him with its very existence.

He shook himself again, his body following the motion right the way down to his tail; water flying off in all directions as he pressed in closer to the wall of the cave. It was nothing too vast, just a decently sized indent, curving inwards of the weather-worn rock with enough room for Keith to sit, or perhaps if he wanted to, lie comfortably with enough room for several to join him.
Yet, despite the space, standing just wasn’t possible without ducking one’s head. But Keith was content with what shelter he had from the god-awful storm that filled the sky.

The squall had come not long since the Human and Galra parted ways; slow billowing clouds of pink and orange having filled the skies as the light of Venris’ star continued it’s decent beyond the reach of the jungle’s canopy. Whereas before the wonderous backdrop of lilac had been an odd sort of comfort, the sky now was anything but dark and ominous; dark purple storm clouds riding the wind towards them.

Keith had seen the coming spell and found himself shelter quickly, for it stood not too far from where he and the Human fought, and in turn, not far from the Altean Beast that hadn’t moved since Keith’s waking. She had not spoken either – if speaking was the correct term for communicating telepathically with an ancient creation that was incapable of speech.
No matter, because it didn’t change that the Red Lion remained quiet.

The Human… not as such.

Keith watched from his rock inlet, hidden from sight by a gracious sweeping of tangled roots and vines, dead from drying in Venris’ sun. It gave Keith the peace to watch as the Paladin ventured from his sanctity of the Red Lion’s inner dwellings. At first he had simply walked around her, once or twice, a hand pushed up to feel the cold of her metal before finding another place, as if he could hear something as organic as a heartbeat.

Dissatisfied, the boy had clambered, almost carefully in the way he climbed her paw, her arm, and there up over to her head. Again, he felt her skin, talking all the while and trying not to lose his balance as they rain broke free from the skies and made his task all that more dangerous.
This did not stop the Human in the slightest, who could barely sit still long enough that he was up along her back, before disappearing from sigh when he slipped between the large components of her legs and her tail.

Again, the boy was defeated. He had been unable to find anything, or at least anything he had been searching for, admitting defeat when he slunk back to the lion’s head, resting just inside her mouth, talking to her.

The gentle thrum of the boy’s voice was lost to the pattering of the rain, but Keith doubted the Human was saying anything of considerable significance.
After all, the lion couldn’t talk back.

Or maybe she could.
The Human was a Paladin after all, and even if Keith had heard her song once, or what he thought to be…

Well, he didn’t know what it meant, and he didn’t particularly want to confuse himself with the musings: the odd flicker of thought that there was something deeper that he should focus on squashed before it could become a fully-fledged thought.

Keith had shared little in ways of conversation with the Human. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if the boy knew just where he had gone, which, to not keep an eye on someone who could possibly be an enemy (even if Keith wasn’t and had firmly denied that he would be as such) was a very foolish thing to do.
Not that Keith expected anything less considering the boy’s less than cautious approach to Red whilst upon the ship and his general devil-may-care when they crossed swords.

And despite Keith’s perceptions, the Human had still impressed him. The boy hadn’t freaked any further than their tussle, having quickly come to terms with their predicament. Talking to the Lion didn’t seem to be for anything beyond the need of companionship. Which, Keith could provide, had the boy not threatened to kill him should Keith not keep his distance.

Movement drew the Galra’s attention.
In his thoughtfulness, he had missed the sight of the Human bidding the Red Lion a farewell, giving her his excuse of hunger and wanting to find food before he began picking his way through the tumbled rock of debris left in the quake of their crash landing. The rain made it tricky, but the boy showed little concern.

Of course, the Human gave little regard to the rain. In fact, it looked to be as if he was enjoying himself despite their predicament; throwing his head back and letting it dampen his hair every now and again. He collected some in a broken palm, drinking what he could before stripping off his upper armour and a think black skin to cool himself.

Which, reminded Keith that he was hot.
And that he was thirsty too.

Damn the Human.

It wasn’t hard to collect a drink, but as the rain brought the damp, it brought a chill to Keith’s hands as he held them out in the rain. Part of his mind warned of the spores and chemical imbalance of the atmosphere, but the louder part thought screw it and he drank his fill.

When Keith raised his head, the Human was gone.
He wasn’t back with the Red Lion and he wasn’t by his make-shift pond of leaves. And if he had followed his original path, then that meant he was heading towards the— Oh no way, the Human hadn’t gone into the jungle— Ah whet, of course he had!

Keith barely has a moment to pull himself from where he’s crouched, fighting his own body where the cold of the rain has made his limbs stiff and achy. He doesn’t hold back from cursing the wet kick in the teeth that continually targets him with malice as he rushes out his shelter.
He chooses some more colourful slurs for the Human that has long since wandered off. Keith didn’t even have an idea where he went, if he tried climbing higher on the plateau or made to descend to the jungle below.
Doesn’t the damn Human know, it’s not just Venris’ flora that are toxic enough to be deadly, but the few creatures that manage to survive here are violent, territorial and just as dangerous.
And if the Human stumbles across a scavenger’s hunting path…

If Keith was thinking, he may have perhaps realised that he was actually worried for the weird, misshapen, fur-less culm that thinks a leisurely stroll in the hazardous jungle could be something of a good idea.
Luckily for Keith, he’s not thinking, and that means he doesn’t have a chance to rethink his own actions of noisily rushing after said idiot into said ‘toxic, dangerous jungle’ that is full of things that wants to kill the pair of them.

And, because Keith is the luckiest Galra in the universe, it’s not long until he finds the Human.
Thankfully uneaten.

Instead, he’s in the process of.

It’s a Treecreeper that has him; a weird, long necked, flippered carnivore that is a fair few thousand years behind its stages of mutation for the need of legs, even though it’s been living on land eons since the evaporation of Venris’ Lakes. Instead of legs, the creature has developed weird vine-like feelers that it has expert control over; one of which, currently wrapped tightly around the Human’s ankle, dangling him upside-down, up in the air, high above Keith’s head.

The Human is thrashing, screaming, spitting out profanities in a mix of terror and heavy sarcasm, as if the Treecreeper might realise that eating the Terran would be rude, and that he’d put him down, apologise for the trouble and be on his merry way.
Naturally, the Treecreeper does not release the Human, instead lifting him even higher so it can dangle him over its yawning mouth, preparing to drop him in and enjoy the morsel that has shifted up three pitches at the prospect of being eaten alive.

In all his thrashing and squirming, the Human spots Keith, standing quite small in the clearing near him, staring up with a hesitation that is somewhat baffled by the Human’s luck to be caught so quickly, and equal parts confusion because he has no clue how to help.

“Help me!”

Umm… how?

But charge blindly Keith does, stampeding into the clearing that was—was a quiznaking nest! How the hell could the Human be so damn unlucky?

Keith barely has time to add to his string of inner curses as he nears the creature’s side, drawing his mediocre blade from its sheath and slashing at the dried-mud-shell of the Treecreeper’s skin, beneath its head where is neck stands exposed in the curvature of staring up with a gaping mouth to try and swallow the Paladin, armour and all.

The blade doesn’t exactly hurt the colossal beast, but it does pull its attention away from lunch to the pest that darts away from the grabbing of vine tentacles that had come to wonder at what was making it itch. Keith doesn’t feel like being an appetiser himself, and darts, not away, but at least out of the vine’s reach. For good measure, he hacks at them as he goes, light on the balls of his heels as they swing and grab.
There are too many to keep track of, but then Keith’s not about to stand still and let himself be caught.

“Behind you!”

Because of course the Treecreeper has more than one bushel of vines and Keith only noticed the second slithering things to come at him from behind because of the Paladin’s shout. He dodges those too, but there are now a considerable number grabbing for him and his blade isn’t heavy enough to break through the outer-skin and slice clean through.
Things become easier when Keith makes the decision to dart forwards, skidding on his knees on the turned earth as he scrambled for the belly of the Treecreeper, ducking under a fin that smells of mould and rotting fruit.
But hey, he’s in a blind spot and—oh shit the thing is already moving!

So as not to get crushed but the colossus’ weight, Keith has no choice but to grab hold of the growth underneath the thing’s flipper, hooking his feet along the thicker vines that aren’t extension-able fingers – so to speak – and manoeuvring himself to swing out from underneath and scramble up its sides. His claws are useless against the tough hide and instead is forced to claw for purchase on the grass and clumps of plants that digs their roots between the creeper’s scales.
It’s a hard task, with rain having made everything slippery, the newer grass weak enough to be pulled from its housing when Keith grabs hold of it in search of something to help him remain on the creeper’s back.

The feelers have backed off now, meaning there is less to fight as he scrambles, but still the rain pours and still the Human screams, letting everything in a hundred-mile radius know that he hasn’t been eaten yet.
But hey, feel free to come join the party if you fancy yourself a taste.

“Shut up will you, I’m doing the best I can. … And you’re not helping!”

Keith’s up on the thing’s back quickly now, dodging saplings and large tangle mess of ferns, perennial blooms and trees that have taken root years ago. He darts past tangle snares and parasitic growths that throw out their own thorny vines for a taste of Galran flesh.

“No, no, don’t—don’t— Help me!” the Human screams again, Keith turning to see the Treecreeper’s long slimy tongue slithers out of its putrid cave of saliva and fangs, poking its slobbery mess at the Human. The screams are silences when the boy gets a face full, struggling to find purchase on the tongue to beat at it, or at least keep it away from wrapping around his stomach.
The Treecreeper doesn’t even register the boy hitting it, or the way he tries and scratches at it with his blunt fingers in a desperate last ditch to do something before he’s eaten.

The feeler on his leg is released.

The boy drops.

Shit.

By sheer luck, or some dumb miracle, the Human manages to latch itself around one of the creeper’s bottom tusks – the one that juts out from its blacked lips, yellowed and coated with the rancour of rotting flesh from feasts of past delicacies, yet perhaps none quite so resilient as those that attack the beast now.
Keith still holds on with all his might, when the Treecreeper bucks at the scream that echoes loud throughout the jungle; the sight of Blue armour joined with a mirage of red, blood dribbling down onto the blackened lips, the blackened tongue, throwing the creature into a frenzy of rage and hunger.

“It’s eye, it’s eye! Aim for its eye!”

The Human was still fighting for his life.

“Just throw something in its fucking eye!”

Which, is easier said than done when Keith is on the creature’s back and the Treecreeper isn’t exactly looking his way. It’s not like the foul beast would think to stand still either and allow Keith ample time for him to forage through the foliage for a rock or loose scale heavy enough to throw.
Actually—

Without thinking – because it’s easier not to think too much when he risks his own death should he stall too long – Keith catches sight of his target: four pooling black orbs imbedded into blistering scales above the creeper’s yawning jaw. He hooks back his arm, lines up his target and sends his blade hurtling towards the eye with a silent prayer.

The piercing screech of the Treecreeper tells Keith his dagger had found its mark.

But such a wound causes the creature to panic, mind torn by pain as it thrashes against the new enemy that has blinded one of its eyes.
It grows desperate, tail swiping dangerously at still-standing trees that stood around, shaking the Vartan pods that had grown high in the canopy, but not enough to split them or break them from their stems. It’s a blessing Keith doesn’t think will last, his eyes darting upwards, staring up to the canopy to the vast numbers of bulbous blooms waiting to burst, and fill their lungs with spores. Not even the Treecreeper was immune, but that didn’t mean it would register the danger of the parasite that lurked above when all that took its mind was pain.

In all the confusion, the Human is thrown to the ground, body crashing into the base of a broken trunk, dropping to remain near the shattered remains of trunks, stamped saplings and pooling rainwater. He doesn’t make to stand.

Distracted, Keith was ill-prepared when a stray vine lashed at him, lassoing around his wrist, another latching around his ankle. He had nothing but his claws to free himself from the snare, and he struggled when the parasitic plants began to pull on him, trying to tear him apart while the Treecreeper bucked and thrashed and bellowed its pain to the stars.

It is all Keith can do to hold on to the trunk of a sapling at the base of the Treecreeper’s neck, vines slashed, his efforts to hold on doubled when he spies his mother’s blade and where it still sits in the beast’s third eye. He has freed his ankle, and thought not for the one that anchors his wrist as it holds him when the creature bucked again.
It is frantic in pain, no longer focused on the two legged things that it had hoped to eat, instead tossing its body back and forth, throwing itself into the base of towering trees all whilst shrieking in a way that Keith begs himself to become deaf as thunder joins the cacophony, roaring back in reply as the storm continues to swell.

Keith can feel himself beginning to tire, but he doesn’t have the time, nor the luxury to care for a wound and seek escape if it means abandoning his mother’s weapon.
And, although often the overgrown kit had cared little for his birth mother, it was the only tie he had to a semblance of family. He felt empty handed without it; as if the weight from his hip unbalanced him with the distance it held and the thought of losing it was what gave the Galran the strength to wrestle himself up the neck of the Treecreeper, using root and scale and rock to make it to the flattened skull of the head.
He uses his tail to balance himself, a swift strike of his claws to sever the vine around his wrist, and in the moment that the Creeper rears its head, Keith leaps.

His hand finds the handle, his body already pulling him down, away from the beast, the sickening slick of the blade carving more pain as it bows to the will of its master and follows him down to the jungle floor.

The wailing pitches louder, a flurry of movement almost involuntary when a feeler whips up, slamming into the Galra’s chest, throwing him to the ground.

If only it was the ground he landed on.

Keith’s screams filled the air along with the creature’s and the echoing thunder as he crashed into the tumbled razor rocks on the far side of the nest. And as he fell, he felt the unyielding strength of the crag carve into his armour, ignoring his fur as it dug deep into his skin and dragged downwards as his momentum continued.
Not broken is all can he think when the pain sears through his mind and the black-smog-sickness drains from his vision.

Head, woozy, wonky, tilting? Floor, rock, up, tree, he thinks, everything just separated, stagnated thoughts that tumbles in on themselves when he tries to stand, tries to put weight on his leg and:

He.

Just.

Screams.

The Treecreeper is gone, having fled its nest in blind panic, having charged tree and boulders aside as it scrambles from the small creatures that hurt it. They cannot no more; their strength all but used up in the efforts to stay awake. Keith tries, but he’s not sure if he manages as such when moments of bleak-white-eternal-winter nothing sings to him in brief moments of clarity.

Tree, rock, step, don’t scream, don’t scream, tree, tree, blue—

Faintly, he is aware that he stares down at his own leg and the peeled back, shattered armour shell of his uniform, trying to fix his mind on the gash on his thigh. It’s… not that deep, and that’s quite a remarkable thought actually, for one that isn’t sure which was it up. And actually, knowing that it’s not as bad as it could’ve been is like a magnet in the gloom, pulling back all his wandering fractions of mind to focus that, yes, there’s a lot of blood, but it’s not that deep and it’s not that long.
The rain makes the clearer the longer is soaks into his fur, washing out the blood so that his purple hue remains rather than the rugged, reddish brown that the blood prefers.

And the longer Keith stands there, feeling the rain trickle down his spine, the longer his mind considers the wound to be nothing more than a training wound, rather than anything to damaging. Still, it doesn’t mean the damn thing won’t burn him as it heals.

The Human probably faired the same. Which brings Keith’s attention back to the damsel in distress whom he had been trying to save from being a walking plant’s second breakfast.

Keith finds the human laid, unmoving, in amongst the rocks; his body limp and twisted in a way that a body couldn’t comfortably lie.
Red seeped lightly from a cut on his face, barely skin-deep and nothing that would worry Keith (not that he would worry, of course), but enough that it would need attention: cleaning and sealing before infection could settle. Other than that, and the cracked armour over his chest, he was okay.
If Keith ignored the fact that he’s been knocked out cold.

Around them, the rain continues to fall, the thunder above cracking like a whip. There is anger in the air; anger at the two that had hurt one of Venris’ own, and it wanted them gone. Keith would all too happily oblige if he could, but with no readily available craft nor an awake Lion or a Paladin to pilot her, the Galra has little choice than to carry the boy back to his cave and wait for the storm to blow out.
It will be hard with his leg, the tiredness that drowns him and the strain that pulls at his back, but Keith isn’t anything but stubborn.

But when Keith moves beside him, crouching low, hands curling under the lithe body like he had merely hours before… Something didn’t quite feel right. It had been a thought earlier, the memory of holding him being light and surprising and confusing with the weight he held behind him when they had fought.
It wasn’t hard to lift the boy, nor was it particularly challenging to hold him close without jostling him, his head pillowed against Keith’s chest rather than hanging lax in the air.

Blood smudges mar the pale of his face, his hair damp on his fringe, the patterns of his skin frosted upon his cheeks in a way that… looked like…

Huh?

And, no, Keith doesn’t think his mind is playing a trick on him as he stares at the boy’s cheeked and the mud-colour of his skin painted in such a way that they obscure two identical hues of early morning skies.

But... the boy was Human.
Wasn’t he?

Human.

Not… Altean?

And Keith knows that he’s staring, but he can’t quite help himself. The suspected concussion is almost definitely messing with his thought process, but still, he is sure that the reports stated that only two Alteans survived their homeworld’s destruction; one being Alfor’s daughter and another. Male, the reports had said, and little more. Or at least, little more than Keith could remember.

If this was indeed the second Altean (which, why wouldn’t he be, because Human’s don’t have illuminating smudges like the Alteans), then it would explain his ferocity and strength during battle, and the dexterity of his being when he sparred toe to toe with Keith.
But there was little Keith could compare to his knowledge of Humans and Alteans being alike; his information short on both affairs. Afterall, the Princess and the other were only recently acknowledged as the last Altean survivors and the Humans were just back water primates from the Quar-Klux system with only the Champion to study.

Regardless of the tangled thoughts that were conjuring themselves up a headache, the Blue Paladin wasn’t getting back to the cave by himself, and the longer that Keith delayed the trek back, the longer he would be spending in the rain.

Keith adjusted his grip, making a point to stop his staring, instead sweeping the boy’s body again, searching for another possible wound other than his cheek, the cut on his arm and his legs…

Ah.

Well, Keith was pretty sure the left one wasn’t meant to bend like that.
Or, it might’ve; the Galra wasn’t totally sure on the biometrics of Humans— err, um, Alteans.
But he was almost definitely certain it wasn’t meant to look like that…

Oh shit.


Pain.
Pain, pain, pain, pain, pain—

Lance wakes with a jerk, his body reacting in a sudden rush of fear, pain and something else that creeps at the base of his spine what throws him awake. He doesn’t care, doesn’t think anything more than the screaming, warning of danger, the trees are trying to eat him, he’s in danger!

“Woah, woah, don’t—don’t move, you’re gonna—”

Lance doesn’t listen. The burning hurts him, his head swimming; legs feeling like lead and molten lava, fire and poison all at once. He can’t help himself when he screams.

“Hey, hey! Calm down, okay, I’m almost done,” the voice says again, loud enough that it pushes through Lance’s panic in its gruff, yet firm way that they boy hears, but cannot quite obey.
He can’t.
His body is on fire.

Run.
Just run.

Lance can’t run. He can’t outrun the pain. He is trapped by the clawing fear that scrapes his throat and steals his air. He screams, his body screams and still there is no release as the burning spreads from his leg, upwards, heat in his stomach, heat in his chest as it turns itself inside out.
Lance barely registers the he is the one screaming, can barely see beyond the darkness of weight over his eyes, feeling the jaws of the beast clamp tight around his leg. There’s a second of relief when the fangs are cold compared to the fire in his blood, but then something begins to pull and Lance’s screams are silenced in the desperation of pulling in air.

“It’s going to hurt. I’m sorry but it’s going to hurt,” the voice says, dancing on the edge of understanding. “Eyes on me. C’mon, c’mon, that’s it,” they say, soft and gruff but still sure as Lance opens his eyes, fighting the darkness. He can see eyes looking down at him; yellow eyes watching him and a face of determination that doesn’t seem to match the rugged, low hum of comfort that repeats over and over. “Hurts,” Lance says in the moment that he can catch his breath. He reaches up, wanting that yellow, honey, gold; wanting them to take the pain away. “It hurts.”

“I know, I know. You just need to take a deep breath.”
“No.”

“Take a deep breath.”

The jaws dig tighter now, the cool of their touch seeping into Lance’s skin to soothe the burning. “Hurts,” he says, pain his only focus when he can’t part from the poison in his veins. Poison and burning.

The jaws squeeze his legs tighter, Lance listening to the voice that talks him, tells him to take a breath, but he can’t, he can’t, the pain is too much, he cries for it to stop, make it all stop, make the pain stop—

The pain stops.

A second of movement, the grinding of bone against bone that won’t give until it does and suddenly, the pain is all but gone. It’s still there; a volcano under his skin, pooling, but it does not build. It does not rise.
It is a peace that Lance holds onto as he gasps in an effort to silence himself, to force his mind to obey him and focus.

Yellow-eyes is still talking.

“I’ve done what I can for now. But you can’t move your leg or you’re going to hurt yourself again. I looked inside the Red Lion for medicine or something to help, but I can’t get past the first corridor.”
His voice hums within Lance’s conscious, his eyes closed in a heavy way that is at fault of the pain. It has worn him out and tiredness quickly bleeds into exhausted, his mind searching for the blissful darkness of before.

“Hey, hey don’t sleep yet. C’mon drink this first. It will help with the pain.” Something cool is pressed against his lips. It is cool and warm and soft. A wetness presses against his mouth, his lips parting just as sudden as the thirst that dries his throat.
Lance drinks hurriedly, filling his mouth, his lungs, his body. He drowns the fire, but not the pain, but no, wait, the ache is fading too. Fading, as is Lance, who watches through lidded eyes as the darkness pulls from colour. from the darkness, looking up into the yellow eyes of the boy that cradles his head, light furred fingers brushing back his fringe, caressing his brow.

The light is fading fast, the pain relinquishing its hold on the boy’s mind as quick as sleep hordes what it can.

And before Lance can let the darkness take him, he smiles.

“Thank you.”


In his dreams he can hear singing:

“Creeper, creeper in the trees,
Bow your head and hide in leaves.”

Lance knows her voice.
He’s sure he does, but grasping onto the memory is like holding mist in his palms; watching as it swirls and dances and lifts into the air, vanishing in an instant, as if it was never there in the first place.
But Lance is sure he knows who it is that sings to him. He remembers her voice.

“Creeper, creeper can’t see well,
So, hush, be silent and all stand still.”

He can feel her arms holding him, the dulcet of her voice warm against his ear as she rocks him, to and fro, as she sings the rhyme of a simple child’s song. But when she sings to him, it isn’t the chanting of a playtime song, but the sweetest of lullabies that pulls him like the moon pulls the stars from their hiding when night fills the skies.

“Creeper, creeper carries the trees,
He hides before you, dressed in green.
But creeper, creeper share your cloak,
And I will vanish just like smoke.”

But Lance knows that her cloak isn’t green. It was always pale pink of the flowers like those that grow just beyond his windowsill.
He remembers searching through his drawers for the same colour, donning the white misshapen blanket over his head like a hood so that he could wear the colour of her hair; searching for the pink satin of the dining room’s table runner to wrap around his body.
He remembers running to her, the way she knelt to grab him, pull him into her arms and hold him close.

Who… who was she?


When Lance wakes, there is more understanding than pain.
That isn’t to say the pain has completely abandoned him, but it is certainly lessened than the last time he had woke to the burning in his mind. Now, the heat is a simple warmth, cooled enough that when the boy wakes, he isn’t fighting his own conscious to stay awake.
More than that, but he has enough wit to not bolt up and warn whoever may be watching, that the Human is no longer unconscious.

Lance keeps his eyes closed, focusing on listening; the soft sounds of his breathing carrying in the echoey quiet that rings with the steady dripping of rain. It is not hollow though, as it would sound if he were laid in the maw of Red, with the echoing of his voice jumping from one metal wall to another. And the more Lance thought about it, he knew he couldn’t be in Red.
She was yet to open her heart to him; the hollow of her chest and cockpit still barred until she grew in strength and granted him access. Only then could he get off this godforsaken planet and back to the others.

In all Lance’s worrying and listening, he doesn’t hear much more than himself and the storm outside wherever he was. He grants himself enough will to open his eyes, just enough that he can see nothing but rock. Or the rocky ceiling of a small, dry cave.
A small dry cave in which Lance is alone.

The rain continues outside, it’s incessant drumming singing a lullaby to the world outside.
Lance always loved the rain; how it always reminded him of the summer storms, back home on Earth. There were few occasions since leaving the blue and green planet to find similar instances, if Lance didn’t count the time that he and the team found themselves in a heavy downpour mid-mission where the task of recon was made both easier and more difficult all at once.

Lance doesn’t particularly feel like sitting and waiting around for the Galra to come back (because Lance knows it’s the Galra who has put him in this cave and no one else), and decides that he’s going to get back to Red if anything. He pulls his leg closer, moving to sit up properly and—fuck!

Lance wasn’t prepared for the pain in his leg to jump so violently, so much so that when he makes to move his leg and it bites back, he can’t help but yell out from the pain, the sound bleeding into a hiss and a string of cuss words that spill between bleeding lips, his hands grabbing just above his left knee.
The burning rocks through his body. He’s can’t tell why, even when he dares to lift his hand and inspect that, there’s no dampness of blood.

Instead, there are neatly wrapped layers of leaves over his knee and the wrappings of cloth tying it in place.

Huh?

When Lance tries to move his leg again, the burning hasn’t subsided, but at least he’s prepared enough not to make any noise beyond that of biting into his lip. Beneath the pain is a tense stiffness and a digging sensation that feels like it’s searching his stomach for something to throw up. Despite the nausea, Lance focuses on his leg, peeling back the leaves, pushing the tied cloth rather than dig his fingers into the knot and contend with that.
But rather than having his worry eased, Lance isn’t quite sure how to understand what he sees when the leaves part to reveal dark bruises all around his knee and upper leg.

Broken leg? That feels right, because it really, really hurts when he tries to move it, and that jarring motion beneath his skin has got to be bone, hasn’t it.
And every time he tries to move it, the pain gets worse, even when he pushes too hard, too much and, oh god I think I’m gonna faint.

But no, no, it might not be broken. It could just be a dislocated knee, or maybe it’s just really badly bruised when he fell on it or something, because he’s pretty sure he fell on something, when the—the what? The tree attacked him? Was that right, or was that a really messed up nightmare?

Whatever it was, Lance couldn’t tell; his mind fuzzy from pain and his near-miss with a coma. Which was better than being eaten by that weird leech, tree-monster thing. Because as much as Lance will admit his imagination it wild, he is pretty certain that his nightmare couldn’t conjure up something like that with as much detail when it came to being held upside down by his ankle, screaming at the Galra to help—

Lance threw his head over his shoulder, ignoring the stiffness of his body in favour of double checking the he was alone in the cave.

He was.
No Galra.
No one.

Okay, so the cat helped him beat up Venom-Groot. And it looks like he’s taken Lance somewhere else because this is not the Red Lion and he doesn’t know where he is, but why would he, he’s in a cave, his leg might be broken and he’s not going to be able to run away if the Galra bastard comes back, thinking he’s got himself an easy prisoner to torture for questions until the rest of the Galra come—

Yeah, fuck that.

Lance started out slow, shifting his body closer to one side of the cave, trying not to move his leg at all and still seeming to catch on every damn stretch of uneven ground. He hissed at every inch gained, cursing out every and any entity that looked down on him and thought it amusing to watch him struggle, rather than help.

Lance had no other choice than to grin and bear it.
He couldn’t be a prisoner to the Galra. He couldn’t be a burden to the team, he couldn’t be a liability that resulted in their downfall because he was weak enough to be caught and tortured—

“What are you doing?”

The arch of the cave’s entrance holds the presence of a familiar stature; drenched from the rain, confused and entirely foreign in the way that the Galra stands with his arms holding a bundle of wood and more palm leaves wrapped around them.

And as he had every right to do, Lance couldn’t help but panic.
There was nothing else that could be said when faced with someone that was going to hurt him, enough that he didn’t think twice when he threw his body backwards, away from the Galra as he enters, shaking out his body to rid his fur of excess rain. They’re close enough that Lance can feel the drops on his skin, but at the same time, he doesn’t feel them. Not when the burning in his leg bites back with a vengeance; strong enough that it makes him feel nauseous, his consciousness ebbing as the pain twisted uglier, like someone was driving a sword between sinew a flesh, the blade itself as hot as the fires from which it was forged.
The boy can’t help but cry out.

“Lance, calm down.”
The Galra’s voice was there in his head but he couldn’t make the connection, his mind only for the pain as he wrapped his hands around his knee, biting his bottom lip to stifle the swearing. It is tender to touch, and stiff in a way that it feels like Lance is fighting his own body just to position it in a way that he’s free from the stabbing, the burning, the hurting under his skin.

“Lance, calm down or you’ll draw the scavengers in,” the Galra was saying. Suddenly he’s close. Too close, but Lance hasn’t the energy to demand distance when his leg burns and the Galra holds him, one hand around his wrist to pull Lance’s hands away from his knee so he can inspect it, ignoring him when he tells the Galra to “piss off—”
“Shut up, Lance. It’s your own damn fault for moving when I told you not to. Now eat,” he says, shoving something closer. Lance opens his mouth again, to curse, but there’s something in his mouth, between his teeth, his curses muffled by whatever gag the Galra is trying to force down his throat—

“Calm down,” the Galra says again, and this time, Lance can hear more than just words. His voice is stern, steady, but drenched in the sense of compassion and… worry? His eyes, yellow eyes, watch carefully, the familiar hum of words swimming in the air to fill it with more than heavy pants and the pattering or rain from beyond the cave.

It doesn’t feel right, is all that plays in Lance’s mind. He’s Galra, he wants to hurt me, he wants to kill all of us, he’s Galra—

“You’re an idiot, you know that” the Galra says, but the bite of his snap is empty of any real anger. He places a hand on Lance’s knee, unsteady fingers holding the boy’s leg still before he can jerk it away and hurt himself further. “Still, I guess now we know it’s not broken. Painful, but not broken. And you’re lucky I thought as much. There’s more soori once you’ve eaten that.”
Lance glances up to him, and this time he’s sure there is worry there, under his deep thick brooding scowl. Which would be possible if it wasn’t a Galra staring at him.

The cat gestures to Lance again, who has been thinking more than he has been listening, but the gesture to his mouth reminds him there’s something in there, leathery against his tongue and not at all pleasant now that he registers what he can taste.

“You might as well start eating now. The pain is still going to bother you for a bit, even once we’ve rewrapped it.” Then he’s up, moving away from Lance, leaving him with the weird, leathery something between his teeth.
On inspection, they’re leaves— Wait, did he say eat it?

“So what? You make me eat this and it knocks me out, so you can keep me as your prisoner,” Lance growls, spitting the leaves out, glaring at the Galra’s back as he fiddles with something on the other side of the cave.
“If I wanted to knock you out, a blow to the head would suffice. It’d be less trouble than traipsing creeper territory for soori leaves. And more satisfying too,” he grumbles, without so much as a glance in the boy’s direction.

The lacklustre towards the argument leaves Lance with little more to do than glare evils at the fucker’s back.
Lance doesn’t believe him. He’s not going to eat the leaf and he’s certainly not going to wait around so the damn cat can tie him up or kill him or torture him for the whereabouts of Voltron or whatever else the shit thought up to make Lance’s life a living hell.
He’s not going to be a prisoner and he’s certainly not staying here.

But the second that Lance tries to move again, his ankles snags on a rock and he’s back to repeating his favourite curses. And it wasn’t like he was being as discrete as he thought he was, because the quiznaking cat is suddenly right there, hands supporting Lance before he can re-break his leg in the effort it takes him to stand up.

“Seriously, what the hell are you trying to do? You can’t walk on a busted leg. Just go lay down.”
“So you can kill me while I’m sleeping? No chance,” Lance spits, slapping the cat’s hands away where they’re still holding him. It earns him a glare, but he gives as good as he gets, holding the Galra where he kneels for a moment longer.

“Suit yourself.” And then he’s up, back on the other side of the cave, busying himself with a firepit.
“Fuck off,” Lance growls. Because yeah, he’s mature, who cares. All he knows is that he’s not going to listen to the enemy placing pretend with him, just so he can get Lance to lower his guard. Even with his knee like it is.

He just has to wait until the Galra’s back is turned. Then it’s just a case of finding Red and getting off this godforsaken planet.

Chapter Text

Lance shivered faintly in his corner of the cave. He had scooted there himself, regardless of the Galra’s glares towards him, having chosen the far side to be where he settled; back pressed against the wall to give him support while he contended with fighting his tiredness as not to give the cat the upper hand.
He’s already got the bonus of Lance being injured, and not just from a dislocated (now back in place) knee, but also a sizeable gash which he had been told was thanks to the work of the Treecreeper’s fang when it had tried to eat him.

Having not believed the Galra, Lance had made the stupid mistake of stripping off his lower armaments to check, and although there was a cut that dug in, three inches along his inner thigh, Lance’s discovery came with more questions and a penalty – the penalty being that he had neglected to keep his armaments close and the damn cat had snatched them up with an excuse of “you need to let it air. If I give it back, you’ll just put it back on and that’s not what you need right now.”
It was all fake concern and subtle plotting in attempts to lower Lance’s guard. He might even try friendly persuasion as a new tactic, but Lance wasn’t going to fall for that. He was the Blue Paladin of Voltron for fucks sake. He wasn’t going to bend under the hand of the Galra.

Beyond the penalty, Lance had questions but no one to ask. Or, no one trustworthy, at least, because there was the Galra and he could lie when Lance asked him how long he had been unconscious. Because his leg as it was, was far more healed than a few hours nap should’ve fixed.
And how the hell did the quiznaking cat know his damn name?

Lance couldn’t help but shiver again. Compared to the hot mugginess of the day, nights on Venris were surprisingly cold, even without the help of the wind and the pattering of rain that played its melody in the still growing darkness. The chill it brought settled like a blanket over Lance’s body, but it did nothing to take away the persistent niggling of pain.
If he doesn’t think about it, it doesn’t bother him, but it doesn’t go away and that’s almost just as annoying as the cold nibbling at his toes.
The food fetched by his prison warden was left uneaten, as were the leaves that he was told would help with numbing the pain, as well as probably numb his mind and give the Galra an open door to start his interrogating.

So no, Lance hadn’t eaten and he did not regret it as he sat shivering, cold and hungry on the far side of the cave, away from the fire, which the Galra warmed himself beside. He remained on guard, behind the light and steady flow of smoke, watching Lance as Lance watched him.
And the longer that Lance watched, and let his mind clear from the boiling anger, the pain a ghosting fear he barely let himself acknowledge… Lance began to notice things he had not before.

The Galra was smaller than any soldier he’d met before, his smallish ears twitching to the dancing of the embers’ song when they popped and cracked to the harmony of rumbling clouds. His tail never wanted to sit still, twitching and flicking, much like Terran cats, but there was no smile that pulled at Lance’s lips, like that which he wore when he watched the cats chase the mice in the barn.
And although Lance had come up against very few Galra soldiers that weren’t walking tin cans, he knew as much that it wasn’t common for their species to bare their tails, or if they even had long tails. So came more questions – none of which Lance allowed himself to ask.

But the biggest question of them all was perhaps why Lance was still alive. Or why the Galra was almost… gentle, with him.
He had calmed Lance when the pain had got too much. He had been the one to chase away the thing in the trees when it had caught Lance, planning to eat him. And it would have done so, if the Galra hadn’t risked his own neck to free the boy.

The Galra was gentle.
So Lance couldn’t be.

He couldn’t let his guard down. He couldn’t let himself be fooled.
Until the team came, he had to stay strong and hold out long enough for them to find him.

He had to.

As if thinking was the very provocation needed for him to act, the Galra did.
Only to refuel the fire with a handful of dried roots from the back of the cave, but it was enough for Lance to tense up in anticipation of something ugly, not realising he pushes himself against the wall until the pain of a protruding rock jabs him in the spine. He cares little for the discomfort, his eyes fixed upon claw and blade.

The Galra stares at him. “You know I’m not going to kill you.”
“I wouldn’t let you,” Lance bites back, much to the other’s amusement. “Is that so?” He doesn’t continue to tease Lance anymore, knowing that the boy is still too tightly coil to take note of the sarcasm in his voice.
Still, it wouldn’t do to let him dwell on the supposed threat. He looks up from the fire, the glow of the flames painting false-gold in his eyes. “If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead, stupid. I didn’t have to save your ass when we were on the battleship, but I did. I didn’t have to save your ass from the Treecreeper either, but I did.”

Lance raised his voice to argue, but the Galra continued with a pointed look. “The injuries to your leg and your head are from your own recklessness. They’re not my doing. What I did do is take care of you for the last two days looking after you because your weak Human body can’t fight off poison fast enough.”

Wait.

“Two days?”

The Galra looks back with a smirk, although it falls short, as do his retorts when he sees genuine confusion upon the boy’s face. He goes back to stocking the fire. “Yeah, two days,” he says, somewhat subdued, as if he doesn’t really want to be admitting this.
“I kind of figured you wouldn’t remember because you were pretty out of it and kept forgetting where we were or who I was. At least you were more cooperative.”
“And I bet you used that to your advantage,” Lance spat, back on the defensive, cursing himself for forgetting—

“Yeah. I did. I managed to get you to eat the leaves and drink more than a mouthful of water. Because, funny enough, I’m not trying to kill you.”

Lance couldn’t say anything to that. He simply turned his head, but not far enough to blind himself to his enemy. If… the Galra was his enemy…

“And as much as I deserve a ‘thank you’ for my efforts… you also deserve one.”

It wasn’t what Lance expected to hear. He can’t help himself when he turns back, watching the way the Galra doesn’t look at him; his ears flattened slightly, yellow eyes turned to the fire as he occupied his impatience by prodding at the flames with a half-charred stick.
Some part of Lance’s chest tightens. Another part respects the efforts of his enemy.

The Galra’s eyes don’t stray too far for too long. They fall back on the boy periodically, yellow orbs full of questions of his own.
Questions that Lance would answer if he didn’t have his guard up, if he wasn’t suspecting foul play. To not suspect it would be foolish. He couldn’t let himself be fooled—

“Thank you. Without your knowing on how to defeat it, I don’t think I could’ve frightened off the creeper.”

What?

“What?”
“The creeper. You knew about its eye. Being a weak spot. Either that or that one’s particular cornea was thin,” he said, a hand coming up to scratch beneath his ear. “Which, spotting such while about to be eaten demands a sharp eye, so that in itself is impressive.”

Lance tries to focus, is trying to focus, trying to understand what he’s saying beneath the pain that swells in the forefront of his mind.

“That was just…” but the other stops and doesn’t say anymore, dismissing his thoughts to speculations.

Lance… can’t think.
His head hurts, the urge to dig into his scalp and drive out the pain surging like a tempest.

Laughter rings in his ears, but it isn’t his and it isn’t the Galra’s.
It’s softer. Warmer.
Kinder.

Red?

“Creeper, creeper, ghost in the trees,
Don’t let him catch you, don’t let him see.”

Heat lances through his forehead, the temptation to scrape at his skin too much to fight against when his hands rush up to cradle his burning skin. The laughter echoes beneath his whimpered moan, but she’s not laughing at him. Not spitefully, at least. Maybe she doesn’t know he’s hurting.

“Creeper, creeper, let me go,
Or in your eye a stone I’ll throw.”

It’s not Red. It’s not her heat that burns under his skin, not the fire of her heart that thunders in time to his, the sounds echoing in his mind as the heat rises, the pain swelling in the forefront of his mind as the voice sings to him again.

Again? What does he mean, again, it’s just a voice in his head, it’s just a—

“Lance—?”

It’s not just her voice anymore.
Lance can hear others joining in with her laughter, with her singing. Children.
And like a ghost of a dream, he can see them behind closed eyes, searching the confusion for an understanding beneath the pain, the surging tempest, the feeling of dread that clings to his throat and lights a fire in his chest.

He can see the children in the garden, running away from his favourite tree and the stone wall on which Yonna sits, her hands covering her eyes as she sings the Creeper’s song. Around her, the other children scatter, Lance among them as he runs across the sun-warmed stone, running for the bushes to hide while mother watches on from the steps of the waterfall. She waves to Lance when he waves first.
But no, that’s not Mama.

Lance’s head throbs again, pain increasing, the burn hot on his brow. He’s faintly aware that the Galra is calling out to him, talking to him, close to him. There’s weight on his hands as they crush against his head, something hot bleeding his cheeks—

“Creeper, creeper in the trees,
Bow your head and hide in leaves.
Creeper, creeper can’t see well,
So hush, be silent and all stand still.”

Without any warning, Lance fell into the worst panic attack of his life.


Keith turned his face from the fire, glancing over his shoulder to where the boy lays beside him. He’s quiet now, still lost in the throes of sleep, a gentle rumbling of his chest with every exhale.
Keith would not deny the fear he felt when Lance’s lungs fought their very role of breathing, the scent of his being sharp and visceral in his own mind-torn terror that had stolen him from waking and trapped him in nightmares while tears streamed from his eyes and the marks on his cheeks glowed brighter than they had since their paths had crossed.

He was Altean, there was no doubt; but that simple fact did nothing to change their predicament, except explain to Keith the reason for the boy’s utter hatred towards him, and why he will irrefutably distrust Keith, no matter what he offers or says or does.
This was already clear with the fact that the food Keith had gathered had been left untouched, the fact that Lance refused to accept the moss stones for warmth and the stubbornness that kept him far from the fire’s warmth.
He had questions – that was obvious – but his distrust kept him from asking, no doubt.

Keith couldn’t help but wonder if this was going to be how it was, for however long they were stranded with one another; the fighting, the bickering, the constant push and pull that was less entertaining than it was irritating.
The only time the boy isn’t being irritating is when he’s quiet or when he’s sleeping. Which is what he’s doing now.

With Lance asleep once again allowed Keith the advantage he hadn’t fully appreciated when the boy was fever-ridden; with him once more unable to fight him when he carried him closer to the fire, nestled on the moss stones and a determination that would have him force feeding the Altean with berries come the morning.

The cave wasn’t the most ideal place to remain while he rested up until the pain in his leg was manageable – and that Keith’s own wounds would stop burning – but the cave’s entrance was smaller than the maw of the Red Lion, meaning there were less chances of being cornered by scavengers and other unwanted predators.
And, if it was the Galra that came before Voltron, it would take longer to be found, although there was the risk of them losing their only escape route.

Keith glanced back to the Altean, something akin to concern growing in his stomach as he watched from beside him, his eyes pulled from the flames every time Lance shifted; every time he turned his head, his face scrunched in pain as he hovered between sleep and being trapped by his mind. He would fight it when it came, ever keeping his guard up against himself as much as he did with Keith.
He was stubborn: impressively so.
Enough that it reminded Keith of himself.
And he couldn’t help but be irritated by it.

Lance was strong. He had to be, as one of the remaining souls of his race, and faced against someone who he considered was his mortal enemy. It wasn’t going to be easy to nurture trust between them, and Keith’s plans of proposing an alliance between himself and Voltron would’ve been hard to accept for a Human. But for an Altean, the idea seemed practically impossible.
Not quite, but enough that Keith was going to have to reassess how his approach would be.

‘Soft’ wasn’t exactly in his vocabulary, nor was it a word that the Galran Empire sought to teach unless it was the build-up of torture to come. Sure, Keith wanted answers and he wanted compliance, but an alliance built in such a way wasn’t an alliance at all. It would be just like Zarkon’s approach for control, and he was someone Keith never wanted to be like.

Still, when the boy woke, Keith knew the task of igniting trust was going to be a difficult task.
He just didn’t realise how difficult.


When Lance wakes, he finds he’s no longer in pain.
But, like last time, he is alone.

Keith isn’t here.

Keith. A very un-Galran name. One that Lance had actually laughed at, despite being stared down with a glare and a flash of claws meant to intimidate him back into silence. The knowledge of the Galra being the enemy stuck fast, and goading him into anger would remind Lance he wasn’t to be trusted, keep him beyond the line, when everything becomes fuzzy and he’s not sure—
No. He’s not going to let himself be fooled by the warm touches, by the way the Galra had protected Lance from the creature in the trees, even from himself when panic struck and fingers clawed, nails sought soft flesh to tear and rip and bleed—

He wasn’t protecting Lance.
He was protecting the answers the boy held in his mind.

To Keith, Lance was just a valuable prisoner that would secure his promotion in the ranks and get him on Zarkon’s good side. Nothing more.

To Lance, Keith was just a means to an end; another to help him fight the monsters, but a monster himself when it came down to escaping this planet.

“Finally awake again,” came the familiar condescending tone that Lance hoped he’d never hear again. But no, he’s out of luck in that aspect, because there is Keith stood by the entrance of the cave with another bundle of dried roots and bark, a fistful of leaves and—

“What the hell is that?” Lance said, poking his finger in the general direction of Keith’s thigh, which is now noticeably coated in a bluish, purple concoction that looks like his burns are weeping goo.
“Oh my god, don’t tell me that’s your blood!” the boy hissed, unsure if he’s disgusted or—nope, nope, not concerned.
Not concerned.

He pushed back against the cave wall, staring at the gash, or the supposed gash that was covered, the area coated much larger than Lance assumed necessary. Wait. Had he got himself injured again?
Not. Concerned.

Keith just rolled his eyes, approaching despite the way Lance keeps trying to push himself further away. Keith pulls a face before dropping the firewood near the embers. They crack and spark, a cloud sweeping near Lance and there is not doubt its deliberate, but Lance is still staring at the cat’s leg. “Dude, that looks gross.”
“It’s not blood, its salve.”
“Doesn’t look like medical salve,” Lance bit, fear spiking. Had Red opened up to him? Given him medicine?
Why would she do that? Actually wait, no, no, she couldn’t have, he was Galra—

“Cus it’s not.”

Keith doesn’t know why he attempts conversation with the Human, or baiting him into petty arguments simply to pass the time. Although the benefits of such are outweighed by the irritation that rides up the Galra’s spine every time this stupid furless alien keeps fighting his corner. Even when he’s so obviously wrong.
Including now, as he continues to rant about Keith’s choice of self-care.

“So, what you’re saying is that you found some random flower, though it would be a good idea to pain yourself with the pollen and hope to god that it’s not as poisonous as everything else on this godforsaken planet. You’re a bona fide moron.” The boy’s scowl quirks. “A moron with a mullet.”
“It’s not a mullet,” Keith growled, even though he’s not sure if the length of his fur does qualify as a “mullet.” All he knows is that damn word is an insult when comparing the lengths of his fur and he’s not about to let the Human call him anything other than his name.
“Culm.”
“Short-ass.”
“Toakh.”
“Zarkon’s bitch.”

The pair’s petty argument continues on as such, dying out as Keith once again gets the fire going. He keeps his back to Lance, the only acknowledgement that the other was there being the twitch of his ears and his tail that flicks side to side at its own accord.
Lance’s mouth hiked up involuntarily, but he schooled it into a frown before the other could notice his amusement. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to offend the kitten by laughing at his tail, but too much taunting could land him with a knife in his shoulder, and that wasn’t really in Lance’s interests.

He prefers the options of escape, but with his knee still cramping and painful, walking is slow and noisy. Keith was right in thinking that the Paladin would have a hard time escaping him if he tried, (with the added challenge of reacquiring his armour).
But that didn’t mean Lance hadn’t tried. The last time, he was beside the Red Lion when Keith appeared, seemingly out of nowhere and prodded and poked until Lance begrudgingly retreated to the cave to rethink his plan.
Not an hour later he was caught just outside the cave, leaning on the rock wall when Keith returned with what he called “edible plants.”

Lance refused to eat – naturally – ignoring the protesting of his stomach even now as he sat up in the cave, pressed against the far side while Keith sat opposite, roasting some gutter rat pierced on a stick.
Lunch, he called it. How delicious.

“You know I’m not going to eat that,” Lance says. He doesn’t give himself the chance to think, running on the same energy of distrust that automatically has him shutting down any help he is offered.
Besides, he’d been hoping to blend into the background, wait for Keith to lower his guard then maybe jump him for the small dagger that remains concealed in the sheath on his back.
But, opening his mouth ruined that plan. And maybe it was obvious of his intentions because when lance looks up, he can’t help but recoil at the sight of yellow eyes piercing him with their narrowed gaze.
Slowly, Keith raises an eyebrow.

“There is no way for me to poison this. Are you seriously going to starve yourself through sheer stubbornness?”
“Don’t care. I’m not eating,” Lance bites, childishly poking his tongue out. Keith’s eyes widen at the sight, straightening where he sits, but the motion is gone as quick as it came, and he’s back to busying himself, trying not to char the rat on the stick.
Lance doesn’t miss the inconsistent glances that follow.

True to his word, Lance does not eat the rat, nor the leaves or berries that Keith has once again collected more of. Neither does he drink what Keith offers: rainwater collected in a large, palm-like leaf.
Instead Lance forces his hurting body to crawl to the cave entrance and catches his own in his hands, deciding to fill himself up on the gift of the second downpour of that day, rather than consuming anything the Galra offered him.

When the storm clouds clear, Keith says he’s going out again. He wants to scout for a vantage point, or any sign of… Well, he said he was looking for a way off of the planet, which was most likely true, and apparently taking regular hikes off to who-knows-where will do something for him. He’s probably looking for other fallen craft or an outreach station for scientists and explorers with a still-working radio, but what with the very nature of the planet, Lance doesn’t think it will amount to anything and doesn’t worry too much.

Still, he won’t stop Keith from running off. Not if it gives him that little bit more distance between himself and his prison warden.
And yet, his plans to grab Red and run are somewhat foiled when Keith turns back, ten paces from the mouth of the cave. “And I get that you’re not going to sit stall no matter how much I ask you, so I’ll say this instead: If you get the Red Lion up and okay to fly, that’s all well and good. Just don’t leave me here. It’s the least you can do in return for me for saving you from that Treecreeper.”

And isn’t that just a kick in the teeth.
Because there’s no way Lance can leave him here now. Because… because…

“Yeah, well I say fuck him!” Lance yells, forgetting himself for just a moment that his fist doesn’t hit his own palm, but Red as she lays prone and vulnerable beneath him. “Ah, shit, sorry Red.” It’s not like it hurt her, but Red isn’t the punching bag Lance wants to take his frustration out on. It’s the Galran bastard that’s off scrounging for berries.

“You get it, don’t you Red?” Lance asks as he smooths the metal of her maw, hoping for a distant earthy rumble that would let him now the lion was still here. Just… a little tired at the moment.
She hasn’t said anything to him yet, but Lance remains hopeful. He had gotten to her quicker this time, his leg only giving out twice and only screaming three cuss words that would have Mama washing his mouth out for months.

“I mean, yeah fine, he saved me from that Groot-monster,” Lance growled, slumping against Red’s ear, appreciating the cool of her metal and the shade that small alcove provided against the heat of the sun.
“But he’s also Galra. And they’re meant to be the enemy. Because, okay I get the whole “two sides to every story nonsense,” but Zarkon’s side is outright enslavement and domination while Allura just wants to free everyone and stop him.” Red doesn’t say anything, but Lance knows she’s listening. “And, yeah, for Allura revenge might be there somewhere too, buried under all her righteousness and beauty, but I don’t think I’m in the wrong for not jumping at the chance to trust him. He’s Galra, for fucks sake.”
Lance traces the lines of armour plating beneath him, trying not to dwell on a voice that chides his childish nonsense. He’s talking about Keith like he’s his nemesis or something when all that stands between them is the colour of their skin and the fact that the other has got a tail. Okay, so it’s not the tail, because that’s actually pretty cool, but that’s besides the point.

“You get it, don’t you Red? He and his kind turned on Altea. It was his Emperor that slayed your pilot, Alfor. He’s Allura’s father,” Lance said, trying to ignore the bubbling thought that whispered deep inside him.

And my King.

But no.

Because Lance had crushed any ideas that he wasn’t his Mama’s fallen star. He knew. He knew he was her son, nethermind the markings that told him otherwise; nethermind the familiarity to Coran and Allura, even if he hid what he refused to show.
Even if he demanded ignorance to the markings that branded his entire life nothing but a lie. He was Human, he was Human, he was—

“He’s Galra. He cannot be trusted.”

Red remains stoically silent. Lance nods to himself. “Yeah, I’m glad we agreed. Good chat Red.”
He pats her, pushing away the negativity and returning to consider slipping back into her mouth and continue playing knock-knock on her inner hull, hoping he can gain access, or at least annoy her enough she can wake up. As long as he knows she’s okay.

By the time the sun is setting, Lance is back to talking to himself, having been unable to stir Red from her slumber. He’s moved from Red’s ear, hoping to soak up the last of the sun’s rays before it could fully set. He’s rambling on about everything and nothing, laid back on the smooth of her nose to look up at the sky as it ignites in orange and gold.
There might also be the notion of delaying his return to the cave, but that’s beside the point.
And it’s not like he has to go back, but there’s something unspoken between himself and the Galra that has Lance thinking that he will actually go back when the stars come out.

Keith, of course, is already in there, having dragged some weird-ass lizard to spit roast because he’s too pro-active in all this survival nonsense. Maybe it’s a Galra thing.
Maybe Zarkon sends them on really hard summer camps where they have to live in dangerous wilderness for a month before they can graduate from evil-school.

“Guess I should be thankful, if not I’d probably end up eating rocks until the others came.”
“Can Alteans eat rocks?”

And there, staring up at him, ruining the moment, is none other than Lance’s cave-mate. “What the hell are you talking about?” Lance spits, fake anger tickling the nape of his neck. Keith just shrugs like it was a perfectly understandable question. Instead of answering, he jerks a hand back to the rock face. “Are you going to eat this time, or…”
“Nah, can’t give you the chance to slip something in my food,” Lance says, all animosity gone when he grins down, much to Keith’s annoyance. He scowls. “Suit yourself.”
Then he turns on his heel, already walking away.

Lucky for Lance, he doesn’t go far.
Because Lance is an idiot. A bona fide idiot who completely forgets about his up-until-recently dislocated knee and how he’s still stiff and how jumping off of Red’s head from this height would seriously hurt him.

But Lance doesn’t think.

Because Lance is an idiot.


“Are you actively trying to kill yourself, or are you just this stupid?” Keith snaps, kicking out at Lance as he passes, ignoring the groan he receives because his foot managed to catch Lance’s right foot. His right foot that he landed on awkwardly when Keith had tried to catch him but hadn’t been able to support his entire weight before the pair of them crumpled to the rock.
Thankfully, Lance’s left knee was safe, but his right ankle hurt like a bitch. Still, only twisted. Not broken and not dislocated.

“You know, we didn’t talk about this, but I thought we came to the mutual agreement that I do the dumb dangerous stuff like traipsing through Treecreeper territory while you just stay behind and try and get your Lion to wake up without trying to break every bone in your body,” Keith growls, his hands joining in the lecture as he points and prods and flicks embers in Lance’s direction when he has the gall to ignore him.
“And yeah, I get it, me Galra, you Altean. Not friends.”

Lance sniggers, not really listening, unable to stop himself mouthing ‘me Jane, you Tarzan” while the idiot prattled on.
“But we’re stuck on a planet where everything is trying to kill us, no communicator, no working escape ship and no working defence systems other than my blade and your sharp tongue.” He smirks then, like he’s knocked Lance down a peg or two. It’s an invitation for an argument, but before Lance can reply, Keith continues.

“So yeah, we’re not friends and we’re for sure not allies. But isn’t it logical to at least work together to survive until we can go our separate ways? You do want to get back to Voltron, don’t you?”

It’s a stupid question. Stupid and simple, but it stuns Lance into silence.

Until, “yeah I do. But what guarantee do I have that you’re not just waiting for me to agree, so that I lower my guard and you end up slitting my throat while I sleep.” It’s kind of unfair to accuse him of something like that, considering that Keith has done nothing but help, even on the battleship, which is something Lance is conflicted about and it’s confusing, so the stubborn idiot inside him has been purposefully ignoring it.

Yet the Galra doesn’t seem offended. Maybe irritated, but that’s a stereotypical look for him, even as he sits, cross legged, tail flicking behind him, thinking. Or brooding.
Yeah, Keith is definitely a brooder, what with his 80s mullet, fluffy ears and thick, scowly eyebrows.

Then all of a sudden “alright fine. You don’t trust me, no matter how many times I save your life or try and help you and give you soori or berries or whatever. I get it, that’s not what you want. But I’m not your enemy. Never was. Never will be.” He stands, as much as the cave will let him, moving to Lance who draws his limbs in on instinct, eyes flashing when Keith’s hand moves to his sheath, the blade glinting in the light, ready to strike—

“Here.”

Keith doesn’t strike.
He’s holding out his dagger; his only weapon held out… for Lance to take?

And Lance takes it. Slowly, his movements unsure and wonky, waiting for the attack that never comes, even after Keith has left his side and sits by the fire, using his claws to dig into the lizard leg he’s already cut off the main roast, skinned and done whatever to, to make it somewhat edible.

Lance turns the knife over in his hands, catching the reflection of his own shocked face, spinning the metal to reflect the fire light, and again until he’s staring back into his own confused eyes.

His head isn’t working. It couldn’t be, because he’s saying words, he isn’t even sure are his. “You’re not actually trying to hurt me?”
Keith snorts. “No. Like I’ve been saying, the only enemy here is yourself,” he says, gesturing to Lance’s head, knee and ankle. “You’re the only one beating yourself up and jumping into Treecreeper territory, Mr. Blue Paladin.”

The silence hangs thick between them.
For the last few days they had been stuck together, all there was, was anger, wariness, irritation and annoyance. Nothing more.
But now, when there is no fire between them, no ghosting rage, no want for revenge for a people that aren’t his, no desire to kill his enemy and be done with it… Lance was at a loss. He wanted to hate Keith. He wanted to hate him because he’s Galra, he’s the enemy, he’s just trying to use Lance, to make him lower his guard, to make him…

“But you’re Galra,” he says, voice too-soft and too-frightened to be his.
Keith doesn’t raise his head. “Just because I am Galra doesn’t mean I’m with the Galra. They’re all Zarkon’s mindless puppets. I don’t believe his ideals nor do I follow them.”
“But you were on the ship. He called you— You were in charge of him. The soldier that you were fighting,” Lance says, acknowledging the thoughts that fuelled his nightmares of not being rescued, or the fear that very same Galra who had choked him before would come to Venris and choke him again. Only this time, he wouldn’t let go.

“Pretending to serve Zarkon was the only peace I got,” the other says, his tone clipped but broken, like he’s trying not to show how shattered his will really is. “When I fought back, as a kit, they’d beat me and tease me and brand me “defective.” I was teased anyway because I never really grew like everyone else. Under Zarkon’s rule, only the strong were respected,” he says, cold laughter bubbling throw pursed lips.
“It didn’t matter that I could think for myself, didn’t matter that I knew what they were doing was wrong.”

“Fighting openly got me nowhere. Trying to get in contact with the Marmora failed too, so I had to rely on my own strengths. But I wasn’t strong enough.”
The Galra continues, his pace quickening, anger tearing his throat into snarls and growls, enough that Lance’s hand curls on the hilt of the dagger, fearing he’ll actually have to defend himself. He doesn’t want to, not really. He wants Keith’s words to be true, that he’s not with the Galra, that he could be an ally—

“I had to steal strength from Zarkon, to pretend I agreed; to pretend that I understood, just so they’d give me a ship and give me freedom from that goddamn planet.” He throws the lizard’s legs into the flames, the embers sparking in protest. He turns, voice tight, rage roaring like an inferno, eyes catching Lance’s wide with fear—

Keith stops. He stares, caught between fearful gaze and his own dagger held between them.
One heartbeat, two heartbeats and another before he settles himself back down by the fire. “Sorry. I didn’t mean get angry. I’ve never spoken about it to anyone before, so I guess all my frustrations came out at once. Sorry,” he says again, moving back to the lizard, tearing off another leg with just his claws.
“So yeah. Galran, but not with them.”

Keith points with the bone in his hand, gesturing back to his dagger as if he hadn’t just let his emotions get the better of him. “Now you’re armed and I’m not.”
And with his voice soft, “you can keep it until we get off the planet. Just don’t lose it, okay? It’s important to me.”

Silence returns to their small, fire-lit cave, but it doesn’t feel as heavy as before. Not to Lance at least, who can’t decide whether or not he’s going to stare at the blade, or at the Galra that gave it to him.
In the end it’s his stomach that decides for him.

With little care for grace, he crawls closer to the fire. Keith raises and eyebrow, his ears flicking back and forth but he asks nothing and Lance doesn’t explain himself. He isn’t sure why he chooses to sit next to Keith rather than opposite, but he does, busying himself by tearing off a leg, before deliberately setting the dagger between them.
Keith eyes it, but makes no movement to take it. Not when Lance takes a bite out the meat, scrunching up his face from the texture and taste that is awfully sugary but too much like mud and stagnant pondwater. “Gross,” he gags, not sure if he should stop now or try and get used to the stringy sinew between his teeth.

Keith is grinning. “You should’ve tried the gutter rat. It tasted much better than this.”
“I doubt that. Anything with the word ‘gutter’ or ‘rat’ already means it will taste bad.”

Their conversation is awkward at best, and Lance can’t help the squirming in his stomach as he tries to make small talk (but that could be the food).
Keith tries too, but still the pair struggle. It is strained and stressed, too much like small talk, but smaller, and with huge yawning abysses of silence, that could have Lance drilling screws into his head just to escape the awkwardness. It’s in his desperation that he searches for something easier to talk about, looking around until he spots the dagger beside them, reflecting light of the fire.

Lance wasn’t really thinking when he picked it up, asking the other why it’s so important to him. It obviously was, with the way that the Galra watches him. His ears cease their flicking, dropping slightly in a way that catches Lance off guard.

“I think… I think it was my mother’s. It’s the only momentum I have of family. She was called to war before I could walk, but my nursemaid said she left that for me. It was more than anyone else had and I was grateful for it.”

Stop, Lance’s head screams, but he’s staring at this stranger beside him. Once he thought him a fierce beast, but now he is nothing but a boy, just Lance’s age, caught up in an adult’s war.
And call it what one will, but Lance calls it a hero’s heart when he sees someone hurting, in need of help, and there he is to be that ear, that shoulder, or sword and shield.
But whatever inspiring speech Lance and his sharp tongue can come up with, Keith diverts. “Do you have one? A treasure from your home?”

Ah.
Home.

Lance just smiles. “No. I didn’t really get the chance to grab anything. It was just me and Hunk and Pidge; the other Paladins,” he explains when he sees Keith’s confusion. He still looks sad; something that doesn’t suit him, leaving Lance no choice but to try and cheer him up.
Or distract him. Because Keith chose to divert.

“So yeah, nothing but the clothes on my back. Pidge was luckier. She had her own laptop when we left. It’s her own personal computer, so there was a bunch of photos from Earth. Hunk even had some of his backed up, because this one time he dropped his memory core in his coffee pot. And, oh god, you should’ve seen the big guy cry; he was so upset. Pidge, did her best to recover what she could and that was before we were properly friends.
“Shiro got it worse off though. I mean, he had been gone a whole year and he barely had a day back on Earth, no chance to tell his family he was still alive, and then all of a sudden he’s back in space, fighting in a war none of us knew about.”

“I think they’re all my memento, if that makes any sense. Like they are part of my home, but we’re all fighting for peace so we can one day, all go back.”

Keith blinks; the same cloud of confusion as before, mixed with a strange sense of sadness that feels too much like pity for Lance’s liking. “What do you mean? I thought the Paladins were Human.”

Which… is a really odd thing to say.
Lance doesn’t make to hide his own confusion, food forgotten. “Well, yeah. We all are. Except for Allura and Coran but they’re not—”
“But you’re not Human.”
“Wh—what?”
“You’re not Human. You’re Altean.”

You’re Alt—

“What?”

Whatever Keith was expecting, he probably wasn’t expecting Lance to react like he’d just stabbed him, pushing back from the fire, claiming distance but forgetting the knife that could defend against the one that pulls accusations from thin air, turning on him the moment his walls were down, the moment he thought he could consider him an ally, the moment that—

“I’m Human,” he hissed, like being anything but was a curse.
“I’m not— I’m not—” but he can’t get the words out, his mind blank, just the deafening echo of Keith’s claim ringing true; No it’s not true, it’s not true, none of it is true.

“I’m Human,” he says, his voice growing in volume but losing tenacity to the true meaning.
He knows it, deep down, knows this lie he had wrapped around himself is nothing but the whim of a child that thinks if it believes enough, then magic is real, that monsters do live under the bed, that he is really Human.

“I am Human,” Lance shouts, his stubbornness not allowing him to think anything else.

Keith was quick to overcome his shock at the Paladin’s outburst, rounding on him, yet remaining where he was, although he’s on his knees now, hands raised in an attempt not to turn their argument physical. “But the markings on your face are a trait only held by Alteans. Humans look like them, we know that, studies were carried out on all three captured from the Quar-Klux system a deca-phoeb ago. Your Black Paladin doesn’t have marks—”
“Because he’s Human—”
“Then what about you?”

Keith’s voice is raised now too, his patience for civil discussion quick to be abandoned, as if yelling loudly enough might make the boy see reason and that, in truth, he wasn’t what he thought he was. If he thought lying to Keith would change their approach, then it wouldn’t. He had saved the boy before he knew he was Altean and denying as such wouldn’t change that.
Perhaps he couldn’t retreat from the fear of the pair of them being mortal enemies, considering it had been another Galra that lead the destruction of his homeworld.
But denying his heritage was absurd.

“Why lie? It won’t change anything?” Keith yells, still yet to control his temper. “You’re still a Paladin, being Human or Altean won’t change how much the Galra want to hunt you down and kill you, so—”
“No, no no no! I. AM. HUMAN!”

Lance lunges forward, without thought, his only want to stop the words that dug deeper than the claws of the Creepers in the jungle. He had never let the team know that he wasn’t like them, that he didn’t have a homeworld, a real family because his were all dead, killed, lost to the stars when the Galra came and decimated his Home.

He couldn’t let it be true. He couldn’t admit the truth.
If he did, then Lance wouldn't have a family anymore, he wouldn’t have his friends who he had lied to, he wouldn’t even have the kin of Allura and Coran who wouldn’t bear to be near another of their kind that had abandoned Altea and Space for the sake of peace on Earth.

The only reason Lance gets a good hit first is because of the shallow ceiling and their already-close capacity.
His fist hits Keith’s gut, the opposite side to the wound inflicted by his sub-commander, but before he has time to raise his guard, Keith curses him out with an elbow to his face.
Nothing breaks, but fuck it hurts, Lance’s eyes watering as he pushes to stand, forgets about the low ceiling and has to duck again because Keith aims a fist for his chin. It’s not there anymore, but there’s something about Galra and vengeance and anger that sees the short mullet-baring dick tackling Lance.

They roll together, right out the cave’s mouth onto the ledge created by Red’s crash landing. In her shadow they fight, as they had back on the battleship, both ignoring their own wounds as they cuss one another out.
Lance grabs a rock from near his foot and launches it at the Galra’s face. It glances off his arm — raised in defence, but dishing out enough damage that Keith’s scowl turns into a full-on murderous glare.

“What the hell is wrong with you? Just because I didn’t fall for your pathetic lies, you’re trying to kill me. I thought we were past this?”
“Past what?” Lance yells, jumping back from a leg swipe, ignoring his knee that groans at him, but adrenaline numbs whatever pain might be felt as he faces the only one who knows his secret.
He can’t know. No one can know.

“It’ll be our little secret, Aerllons. You can’t let the others know, okay?”
“Okay mother, it’s our secret.”

He sees her face, the light of the morning sun haloing her head, her beauty infinite and immeasurable; she, his angel, always there to hold him when he cries, to take his pain when he hurts.

Keith doesn't see his opponent had stalled; doesn’t notice the faraway gaze his eyes hold as he falls into memories. It’s only when the fist connects to jaw with no resistance does Keith realise his mistake, scrambling to catch the other before he can crumple to the floor, voice pulled taut as he mumbles low, over and over.
“I’m sorry Mother, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry—” over and over again like a mantra.

“Lance? Lance, what’s wrong?” Keith asks, tired all of sudden from the absence of adrenaline. He feels warmth on his cheek, fearing blood, but his hand comes away clean and dry. The warmth remains; melancholic and fearful, but familiar.

“Lance? Lance!”
“I’m sorry Mother,” Lance says, losing himself to his mind, the darkness on his ankles pulling him under, away from hard rock and cradling arms to soft sheets and the faint smell of flowery perfume she always wore.

“Another nightmare?”
It’s Mother. She is sat on the edge of the bed in which he lies, a soft touch on his face, caressing his cheek in spiralling patterns that tickles as much as it comforts him. She has barely settled herself upon the silk and already, his eyes were beginning to dry.
“No, it wasn’t,” Lance hears, his mouth moving but the voice of indignation speaks as if it isn’t his own. Maybe once it was, like it always was in his dreams.

They’re always like this, always have been since he was a child, even when his mind showed him Mama in the place of the pale-haired lady. Memories distorted by dreams and time, but memories nonetheless.

Lance’s mind was a rabbit hole and he was Alice, falling deeper and deeper until the call of Keith’s voice was nothing to his ears, filled instead with the sound of his long-abandoned childhood upon a planet he had discarded from his mind.

And as all things come to an end, so does Lance’s will to hold back the tide. The waves wash over him pulling him down deeper, like a stranger in another’s body as he sees others that he called family, knowing their faces but not their names as the man they call Father lifts him high in the air. “My my, Aerllons, you’ve grown since I last saw you.”
And Lance, in the child’s body, crosses his arms and pouts his lips. “You saw me this morning. I can’t have grown. And anyway, you promised you’d take me with you today.”
“Ah, I did indeed. But your Father has had a busy day today. Perhaps tomorrow.”
“But you always say that.”

Lance remembers running, chasing his friends through the meadows, through the courtyards, through the woods where they’d scramble up the trees, chanting out the Creeper song:

“Creeper, creeper, ghost in the trees,
Don’t let him catch you, don’t let him see.”

He can hear Yonna teasing him, hear Tordel and Maynar laughing when Lance chases behind.

“Creeper, creeper, let me go,
Or in your eye a stone I’ll throw.”

It is how he knew the Treecreeper’s weakness. It was how, even in the moment of panic, his mind had somehow delved deep into his memories and found the connection between the terror that held him above its jaws and the terror that plagued him night after night until Mother had told him that the Creeper’s were gone, they were nothing but tales to scare children into being good. And Lance, her son—

No.
Not Lance.

Aerllons.

That was his name, to which she called him, when he needed to return home for dinner, or she sought after him and he, who hid in the garden, or when he rebelled against their decisions that night was for him to be with his family, not friends, and he’d ignored both Mother and Father and climbed from the balcony to lost himself in the forests.
He had received a scolding like no other when the four of them traipsed home far later than they had ever dared to remain outside; all of them cold and wet but very-much amused with themselves. It was all a game to them, still children in body and soul.

This was Aerllons’…. No, Lance’s childhood, all those years ago, when Altea thrived and he was one of her people, living in blissful peace.

This was his, when he was Aerllons.


When Keith woke up for the third time, he was met with the pleasant subtle buzz upon his thigh, telling him that the sap he had found was indeed helping him, and not poisonous like Lance suspected.
Keith wasn’t happy when he woke to find that the boy was gone.

“Quiznak! Of course, he’s going to run off the second I let my guard down! What were you thinking Keith?” the Galra growls, berating himself as he rushes out the cave, towards the narrow ledge that leads towards the Red Lion. It’s the only place the Paladin would go; to escape the planet and return to his comrades. But with a hurt leg and little energy, Keith had his doubts that the idiot would get too far.

Lance isn’t with Red.
He’s not on the rock ledge and he’s not near the cliff at all. Which leaves the jungle, and miles of Treecreeper territory between here and any other sanctuary the boy might stumble upon. If he doesn’t stumble upon scavengers, razors or another predator first.

Cussing out every swear word he knows, and some he makes up, Keith takes off after the Blue Paladin, determined to be the one that gets to kill him.

Chapter Text

Pidge let her hand slide down her face, trying to dry-wash away the exhaustion and brewing irritation towards the fact that they had failed in their mission to retrieve the Red Lion.
Again.

What was more irritating was the fact that the team – mainly Coran and herself – had spent countless quintant tracking the small fleet of three battleships strong, with the decisive notion that it was this one that was harbouring the Red Lion and their final piece to acquiring the Universe’s strongest weapon.
But as with every recent encounter with the Galra, the damn fleet split up, leaving half to battle Voltron while the rest recouped with larger numbers, making it harder to mount a second attack when they had stopped their fleeing and turned to face Voltron with an entire armada.

Shiro had been the one to call retreat; after seeing Blue hurtling towards them, Lance eerily unresponsive on the comms, which only heightened everyone’s fear that something was wrong. Pidge just hoped that Blue had taken a hit, one that was bad enough to knock out her transmitter, effectively silencing the Blue Paladin from the team. This in itself must’ve been scary for Lance, but if they were to engage in battle, it was something that could be damaging for any one of them if Lance was neither able to hear or respond.

So yeah, it sucked ass, but Voltron had no real choice but to pull back and allow the Galra fleet to escape into the next star system. There they would have the freedom to bolstering their numbers with another patrol fleet or regroup with a base on some planet that have yet to be liberated by Voltron.
Whatever. The only certainty was that their next mission was going to be much harder.
For fucks sake.

Hunk is the last to land in the hangar, but he’s the first out, rushing to Blue’s feet, waiting for Lance. Of course the big guy got worried about his best friend’s silence. No doubt his head had betrayed him and planted little thoughts of “Lance injured,” or “Lance unconscious,” or “Lance badly hurt…”

Shiro and Pidge join Hunk, waiting on Lance so they can all convene in the lounge, or maybe the Bridge once they’ve changed and had a much-needed shower.
They could catch their breaths before they debriefed as they analyse their recent failure, before moving on, and begin to make steps towards their next plan of action. Red is still their goal, that hasn’t changed, but with the window of opportunity closing, and closing fast, they’re going to have to come up with a kick-ass strategy that really kicks ass.

Blue remains still.
Her jaw stay shut, her body risen up with no sign that she’ll bow to help her Cub leave, no sign of the Blue Paladin who comes out with a sheepish smile, a small apology and a promise that he’ll try harder to beat the Galra next time.
They’ll get Red next time.

“Lance?”

Lance still hasn’t come out.

“Lance, get down here. It’s not your fault,” Shiro says, his voice bleeding into confusion whereas Hunk and Pidge plummet to worry. Maybe he was injured. Maybe he was unconscious, and that was why he didn’t reply to his Comms. Maybe it wasn’t Blue that was badly hurt, but her pilot, and that was why he wasn’t joining them—

“Lance, for fucks sake—”

Where Shiro holds back, Pidge and Hunk charge in, carrying the same worried look as they rush over to Blue. They don’t even get the chance to knock on her chest before Blue bows her head quickly, a faint sad rumble in her chest that tightens Pidge’s own. She can’t ignore Blue’s fear as she climbs in first, Hunk close on her tail as Coran and Allura, who have joined them in the hangar ask Shiro what’s wrong.
They don’t know yet, and that’s the problem. But Pidge and Hunk are already inside, rushing through Blue’s heart towards her cockpit.

Her empty cockpit.

Lance isn’t here.


“Pidge? Pidge come back— Pidge, dammit I know you can hear me!” Hunk begins to jog to keep up with the younger’s shorter legs.
Pidge doesn’t let up and remains unrelenting in her quick-pace, marching away from the Bridge for the hundredth-something time since they had discovered Lance was missing.

At first it was confusion: where had he gone, where was he now, who took him, how come Blue came back alone?
Then it was denial, albeit a short moment of hot-molten denial, that no, Lance wasn’t missing, it was a joke. There was at least ten minutes of Pidge searching the entire Lion for her hiding brother, then another half an hour of searching the castle because she refused to believe it was anything but a prank, nothing but a stupid damn joke and when she caught him, fuck was he going to pay—

Then came realisation. And understanding.
Because no matter how stupid, immature and bratty Lance would pretend to be, he wouldn’t ever do something as dumb as this. He wouldn’t ever fake him own capture. He wouldn’t ever abandon his Lion in the middle of a Galra fleet that would easily take her.
He wouldn’t ever dream of dicking about, right when they were on the verge of taking back the Red Lion.

No one knew what had happened. They all had questions, but no one but Blue had the answers, and she wasn’t up for sharing
All they were left with were the speculations that Lance was aboard the Galra ship, either a prisoner or a stowaway, trying to learn of Red’s location or still desperately fighting, trying to get her back. Whatever the answer, it didn’t change the fact that Lance was in danger, that he was too far away from the team for the internal comms system for his helmet to function, and he was ultimately alone in enemy territory while the team just…. did nothing.

They had done nothing.

The only one who had done anything was Pidge, who screamed bloody murder when no one was keen on the idea to go chasing after Lance, to pull him from the clutches of the beast. Even if Allura stated Lance must’ve known what he was doing, even if Shiro said it was dangerous for them all to move without a plan, even if Coran stood there like a fucking brick wall and said nothing.

“Pidge, come on, calm down,” Hunk calls again, still trying to keep up with her.
“No, NO! Don't you dare tell me to calm down,” the Gremlin all but shrieks, stopping suddenly, turning on the ball of her heel to face the older Paladin, a finger pointed in his face. Because it was better just a rude little finger than a balled-up fist and all her fury twisted between her fingers.
Hunk didn’t deserve to be hit. He too, wanted to go after Lance.

Still. Pidge wanted to punch someone.

“It’s the same thing. Every. Damn. Time. All I want to do is start with us making plans, Hunk. Shiro said he didn’t want to make a move with us all without our heads and I agreed with him, because there is logic there, but it’s been days and that fucking—”
“Pidge—”
“It’s been days and he has done nothing.”
She can feel herself panting, feel the coil of guilt spiral where Hunk is at her mercy and not to blame—

“Every time you all want to talk, it never seems to focus on Lance or trying to bring him back. All Allura wants to fucking talk about is the Red Lion and I get it, I do, we need the Lion to be stronger but at the moment we’re missing the Blue Paladin and if we don’t get Lance back our chances of staying in this fight drop exponentially. We’re already fucked because he’s not here—”
“Pidge, calm—”
“And even if we had all five lions, there’s no way we’d be able to form Voltron if we don’t bring him back. Because we have to bring him back. You used to be on my side—”
“I am on your side—”

“Oh really,” Pidge huffs. “Then why the hell am I the only one that keeps bringing up the fact that Lance is missing, and all anyone else cares about is making plans to go and search for the fifth fucking lion?”
“Because Shiro knows that Lance is also looking for Red. He wouldn’t trap himself on a Galra ship without a plan—”
“He wouldn’t trap himself to begin with. He’s not that stupid!” Pidge yells, barely keeping her fists by her sides.

“I know what Shiro says, that Lance is working under his orders because he told Lance to retrieve Red, but there wasn’t anything in Shiro’s instructions that told Lance to risk his life for her.” Hunk raises an eyebrow. “We’re fighting a war Pidge, we’re all risking our lives.”
“Yeah, but we’re not being stupid when we do it. And like I said, Lance isn’t that stupid to put us all in danger, to put Blue in danger by making her fly back by herself if he had the conscious choice not to.”

Because Lance might piss about and act up in training, but he’s not stupid. He wouldn’t risk the universe to be reckless.

Hunk has nothing to say, so Pidge leaves him there, looking at his feet rather than looking for their missing brother. Why the fuck didn't they care? Lance ALWAYS cared about everyone else.
And no, it’s not Pidge being childish, bratty or whatever as she rushes to the nearest room, the door locked the second it slid shut. She slides down the door, hitting the floor with a thud, tears creeping to the corner of her eyes…

She had run straight to Lance’s room.

Lance. Lance. Lance, Lance, Lance—
There was no use trying to stop the tears now, so Pidge didn’t bother to try. Not when the emptiness of the room hits her with the full force of a battleship.

This wasn’t the first time she’d sought shelter here, but it was the first time Lance hadn’t been sitting on his bed, strumming his guitar, with a space next to him, as if he’d been waiting for her to join him.
He was waiting for her now. And Pidge was going to bring Lance home.

She practically leaped onto the boy's bed, reaching to hug his pillow tightly. If only it was really him, only his warmth that curled back around her, his voice soft and muffled with lips pressed to her hair, holding her close.
“It’s okay Pidge, it’ll all be okay. You’ll figure this out. You always do.”

Something halts his voice. Something cold on her fingers, reaching up past his gathered-duvet.
It’s simple curiosity that has Pidge pulls herself up to sit, pushing past duvet and bed sheets and blankets until she grabs that cold box that didn’t feel at home in Lance’s room.
Sharp-edged and plain, but with it came an eerie weight that stained Pidge’s fingers from the moment she held the box with two hands in front of her. The clasp remained unlatched, from the last time that Lance had looked in his box. It wasn’t for Pidge to let her curiosity overwhelm her and throw back the lid.

So she didn’t.
She simply leant over to the boy’s shelf, using one hand to lean on the bed, the other with the weighty black cube, too big to balance on her palm.

The shelf was too far.
Of course she’d drop it.

But she forgot to hook the clasp.

Lance’s things pour out onto the bed; a mix of tape and bandages, some plasters and that weird glue that the Arusians offered when Voltron finally left Arus.
Pidge smiles to herself, impressed that Lance had the foresight to gather himself his own little first aid kit, what with all the bumps and bruises he accumulates through training with the team and the times he trains by himself.

Pidge had caught him before, holding his wrist and looking pale, but when questioned about going to Coran if he felt unwell, Lance had waved it off, saying it was down to his own idiocy and he’d fix it himself; no need to bother Coran with something to small when he’s also figuring out how to keep the castle maintained.

But it wasn’t until Pidge’s fingers caught on something sharp. Something that bit at her flesh and brought her pain: a warning.
She didn’t take heed to such nonsense, and snatched up the glass in anger, cursing Lance for having something so foolish amongst his possessions that could hurt… that could… something that would…

No.

No, because that’s not— It’s not right, it’s not Lance, he wouldn’t, because he is strong, he’s… he’s…
For fuck’s sake, he’s Lance, he wouldn’t hurt himself, for the sake of hurting himself. He’d come to Pidge, or he’d speak to Hunk, or he’d…

He wouldn’t.

He couldn’t.

He was Lance.

She bit her lip, the broken shard held in her palm. How could he do this to her? To himself?

The girl just wanted to scream. Or cry. Maybe both.
But screaming and crying is all Pidge has done for the last god knows how long, trying to get the team to see reason, trying to wear herself out so that she won’t have nightmares about her brother in the hands of the Galra.
Crying and screaming won’t change to the past, it won’t change that Lance sought to hurt himself for some unknown reason. It won’t change where Lance is now, and it won’t change that Pidge can’t reach out, wrap her small arms around the body and hug his body tight, enough to squeeze out every bad feeling until he’s smiling again.
Proper smiles, genuine smiles that stretch ear to ear.

So Pidge, ever the genius prodigy, lets her mind take over, lets logic accumulate knowledge, order it, sort it and try and provide a simple solution to the seemingly not-simple problem.

Lance isn’t just hurting himself for the sake of hurting; he can beat himself up in the Training Hall, or let himself fall to a Galra Blade if he was really determined to end it once and for all. He hasn’t told the team because he has the perception that the team’s mission to defeat the Empire outweighs his own safety and wellbeing, meaning that he deals with whatever that burdens him by himself.
Without being able to speak, he harms himself for release, and keep the others safe by not letting them see.

Pidge will respect Lance’s decision. She won’t tell the crew. That is Lance’s secret to tell.
Her role now, is to stand by him and help him bear his burden.

But to do that, she’s got to find him.


“Here.”

Pidge stabs the hologram with her finger, voice as tough as steel, struck hard, the echo ringing out in the deafening silence of the Bridge. They didn’t want to listen to her before, but they’d listen to her now.
She had spent hours, hours and hours sat in her chair on the Bridge, hacking into the systems Allura wouldn’t allow her in, for the spiteful reason of the Princess wanting to remain in control.
But Pidge hadn’t let the woman stand in her way.

She knocked down anything that stood in front of her: firewalls, password prompts, even Coran and Hunk’s incessant wittering that Pidge needed sleep, she needed to have faith in Lance, that he’d come back to them when he found Red.
But they didn’t know Lance was burdened with more than just the task of returning with the Red Lion.

Maybe it was the thought of their continuous failure, maybe Lance kept blaming himself that saw him take the glass to his skin again and again, drawing blood and drawing relief from all the times they had lost.

“He’s somewhere here,” Pidge repeated, not drawing her finger from the hologram’s influx of storms, in the system of Leuen. “The half that Lance chased disappeared into the nebula. The half we fought followed afterwards and haven’t been seen since.”

“How do you—”
“I hacked the Galra’s records,” Pidge says, the tone of her voice shutting Allura up more so than from the disrespect of interrupting her. She ignores her shock and continues. “They were the patrolling ships near the Dwale System where they had recorded that they were to meet with the fleet. It says they’ve lost contact with some Commander named Corrlux Kogane as well as his Second-In-Command and their three battleships.”

The team look to one another, then back to Pidge, and her other hand that gestures wordlessly to the piloting mechanism of the ship. She raises a hand gesturing to herself. “I am not Altean. So would one of you kindly point this hunk-of-junk in the direction of our missing Paladin, who is the only one working his hardest to get back Red—”
“We can’t rush in without a plan,” Shiro begins, but Pidge shuts him up with a look that she and Matt had perfected over the years of sibling rivalry.

“I’ve got the plan. Because I’m the only one actually doing shit, while you all stand around and make excuses. You haven’t even looked for Lance any more than monitor the coordinates at which the fleet disappeared, like imbeciles that think the Galra will pass through that exact spot again.
“Well guess what. They’re not. And I can tell you why, because the quadrant surrounding the Leuen system and all her toxic planets, volatile nebulae and the fact that her star is breaking down signifies it as a Black Zone to the Galra. They’re not allowed there. At all.”

“We know Pidge. That’s why we targeted the fleet,” Hunk says, because of course they knew that Leuen was a Black Zone, having pulled the information from their last successful raid on a transport patrol on the far side of Symir. The Galra were exempt from such areas on fear of death, and with Pidge trying to track down as many as possible to narrow their searching ground of accessible space, she found the signal of a certain fleet bordering the Black Zone on an uncharted flight path.
And now they were using the Black Zone as a hiding place.

She’d give the Commander credit where credit was due.
She’d also give him her right hook and a thousand volts from her Bayard.

Shiro is quiet for a moment, looking over Pidge’s working. Allura is the one that speaks up first. “We can’t jump blindly into a system dense with space storms. Both the Castle and the Lions can’t navigate the environment. The interference is too strong, I wouldn't be able to find a lock for the portal and we’d be ripped apart.”
“Then jump outside the storm and we’ll fly in,” Pidge says, her tone cold and growing colder still at the impatience that Lance is waiting for them. Why bother waiting for a team that aren’t doing their damndest to help him.

Pidge is though. And she is going to get Allura to pilot this damn castle, or she’s going to take Green and get Lance back by herself. It will take her weeks; the Princess jumped the Castle three systems away for the sake of losing the Galra before they decimated the Castle, but that means they’ve stranded Lance, three systems away, upon a fleet in a Black Zone.

“Pidge?”
It’s Shiro who is brave enough to approach, looking between Pidge and the hologram that shows Lance’s suspected position. “Allura is right, Leuen is dangerous.”
Pidge makes to speak, but a hand on her shoulder halts her words, Shiro turning back to the team. “But Pidge is right too. We’ve been waiting for Lance to bring Red back to us for three days and he hasn’t made contact yet. We will find the fleet again and provide Lance a distraction to take Red back.”

Fucking finally.

“Then let’s go,” Pidge says, the first smile in days pulling at her lips, but before it can sit comfortably, Shiro is already shaking his head, going back on his words. “First we need a plan. You’ve given us a location, but if you jump in, guns blazing, it might go wrong, and Lance will pay the price,” he says, raising his voice before Pidge can interrupt like she has been doing frequently.
“Isn’t “all guns blazing” the plan anyway? If we jump in on them, they’ll be caught off guard.”
“And Allura already said the Castle can’t bear it.”
“Then send the Lions.”
“There are only three of us,” Hunk adds, stepping in, trying to be mediator, but inadvertently stands against Pidge and her plans to save her brother. “Lance is strong enough to wait a little more—”

“No, he’s not,” Pidge yells, angry now. She almost had their ears, their vote in her favour, but as the prize was held out in waiting palms it was cruelly snatched back from her grasp. They were all just laughing at her.
“You have no idea what he’s going through, not now, not ever,” she yells, anger boiling under her skin as she watched from the doorway as Lance takes the glass to his skin again and again, smiling from the pain it brings. It wasn’t hard to imagine, watching the blood trickle down his arms when he cut too deep, the frantic way he’s scramble for the bandages before blood could drop and begin the ripple of questions from those around him.
He’d bind his arms and bind his mouth, gagging himself before he could cry out for help. He didn’t want to be a burden to the team, and in turn, he’d turn on himself over and over, more blood, more pain, more punishment.
But what happened when the punishment went too far.

“He’s smart Pidge, he’ll keep himself from the Galra—”
“It’s not the Galra I’m worried about,” Pidge yelled, tears streaking her face, marring the sight of Coran, of Hunk, of all of them who didn’t know, all of them pushing Lance closer and closer to the edge with their ignorance—

“I’m worried about him! The longer he leaves us waiting, the more he’s going to think he’s a failure. He keeps blaming himself and he’s beating himself up every time, but at least he has the Castle to hide in, to stop and breathe for a moment. If he’s on that ship, he can’t let his guard down at all. He’s already breaking enough,” she yells, voice cracking, mind tumbling too-quick, too-fast to catch her words, “he already carves himself up like he’s searching for some stupid redemption, because he can’t stop blaming himself when he doesn’t need to.”

The team pull back, faces white in shock but still Pidge continues, firing words with all the destruction of bullets fired from a gun.
Unrelenting. Undefendable.

“He’s never said anything because he doesn’t want to burden us, because he knows we’re all focused on Red. Too focused on Red, blind to the fact that Lance is right next to us, breaking and… and…

“And we’re not even there for him now.”

Her words pierce deep, bleeding tears streaming down Allura’s face, Hunk’s face. Coran is speechless, Shiro just as shocked.

And then she realises what she’s said.

Pidge is mortified. She wasn’t supposed to say anything, she wasn’t going to say anything, that was Lance’s secret to admit. And Pidge took that away from him.

“No, no I didn’t mean it,” she says, her own tears suddenly dry, her panic consuming her quicker than her anger. “I didn’t mean to say, I wasn’t meant to say!”

“Pidge—?”

She could help it.
She ran.


They find her hiding in Blue’s cockpit.
They didn’t know if it was because Pidge was searching for her brother, or that she had run blind and it was Blue, who knew the young Paladin was searching for her pilot, who had scooped her up in her arms and held her close. There’s no anger to Hunk and Shiro for their choice of standing back, and allows them into her cockpit too, the door closing behind them, much like a mother’s stern look that tells her naughty children to apologise.

“Pidge—?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says, long before they can barrel on with their words. She’s curled up in Lance’s chair, her knees tucked up to their chin. She looks undeniably miserable, the trembling of her lip enough to stutter Hunk’s pre-planned words of apology. Shiro’s words falter too and they stay in silence.

Until; “It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it. Because I don’t,” she says, casting them a quick look. “And I do, but it’s not my place. It’s Lance’s secret and I wasn’t meant to say anything. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“But you already have,” Shiro urges, but Pidge stands firm. “Yeah, I already made one mistake and you’re not about to push me into making another. So either help me patch this, or get your asses back up to the Bridge, turn this Castle around and: Go. Get. Lance.”

Shiro sighs, dry-washing his face with his palm. Hunk averts his eyes but he looks just as guilty when their ‘oh so fearless leader’ turns around and says “Pidge we can’t. I’ve already explained why.”
“It wouldn’t stop Lance.”

She was right, and they knew it.

“It wouldn't stop him and you know it. He’d search for any of us, all of us, come hell or high water and all you guys want to do is blame the weather and wait till it blows over. It doesn't matter, you might as well start planning his funeral rather than a welcome back party.”
Pidge’s anger wasn’t a surprise, but Shiro didn’t feel like he deserved the constant barrage sent his way. Yet before the fool could think to question the youngest of the team, the very ground shakes.
But it’s not the ground, it’s Blue. She isn’t shaking, but standing, and they, inside her chest, are powerless to stop her.

“Blue, Blue what are you doing?” Hunk yells, pushed between the doorway to stop himself from being thrown back into her cargo hold. But Blue doesn’t listen. She doesn’t even acknowledge the Paladins inside her as she stands, runs and leaps from her hangar, taking to the stars to find her Cub.

If the Paladins of Voltron refused to do it themselves then she would be the one to find him.
She’d be the one to bring him back home.

Chapter Text

Being lost in an unknown alien jungle was terrifying enough when Lance was with his friends, safe in the knowledge that everyone was there with him, fighting alongside him.
It’s an entirely different ballpark when Lance is all by himself, armed with nothing but a small knife that barely extends his reach further than a hand at best. On top of that, his Paladin armour is incomplete: half of the solidified shell-overlay missing and a pissing, bleeding wound that is undoubtedly drawing in all sorts of danger.

“Dammit Keith, aren’t you meant to be here by now,” he curses, not one hundred percent sure if he’s being serious, if he’s joking when he thinks about the Galra finding him.
If he was planning to follow, Lance is sure that Keith would’ve already found him by now, most likely cussed him out and threatened to drag him back to the cave by his ear, considering how easy it was the first few thousand times the boy had tried, and failed, to slip away unnoticed.

Then again, for the last few thousand times that Lance had given Keith the slip, his goal had always Red; barely a few feet from the starting line. Now, Lance had abandoned his usual trek, pushing his still-healing body far beyond its normal limits, searching for something that even he had no clue what it could be.

And now, he’s stuck in the middle of the jungle, wondering if calling out for the other would be the death of him or…. No, it would definitely be the death of him, whether Keith came or not.
It was just deciding if he wanted to die by fang or blade.

Lance’s leg is still giving him grief, so it’s not like he can move terribly fast. Instead, he is forced to pick his way through gnarled roots and overly-large jungle trees that tease him as he scrambles over one, jars his knee, only to tumble back to the rotting earth on the other side, stuck between two roots meaning he has to do it all over again, no matter which way he chooses to go.

The boy is nearing exhaustion when he finds himself in a clearing, perhaps an hour or so’s journey from the cave, if the slow incline of sunrise is anything to trust.
Trust is used loosely, remembering that when he had slipped out once, at night (only to retreat back from fear of freezing to death), he had been sure that the moon, which, he had been sure was the moon, blinked.
Needless to say, Lance doesn’t trust anything he can’t physically touch.

The clearing beyond the treeline is a part of that, but when Lance stumbles further into the clearing, it doesn’t gobble him up, nor does it evaporate like a poorly painted mirage. Instead, he feels the coarse needles of strange reeds against his fingers, pushing past to shorter, knee-high grass that stands dry, soft and inviting enough that he doesn’t overly care when his foot catches stone, his knees forced to buckle and the boy falls to the earth with a less that graceful oomph.

Shouldn’t be long until Keith finds him now. He can just lie here and wait.

Lie and wait for the team to find him too.

They were looking for him, naturally, having to pick up the pieces where Lance failed, having left everything broken in his wake. He should be better than this; better than stranding himself on a planet with a Lion who won’t wake, with a Galra who might be, or might not be the enemy.

What would they think when they found him?
Would they be upset he had gone so long?
Would they be worried that he was hurt?

Or would they be angry at him for getting hurt, for not being able to follow the simple orders that Shiro had given him: to get Red and get back to them.
But Red is hurt. Or at least, in stasis, and she won’t respond to Lance, no matter how much he tries to talk to her or beg her to open up for him so he can do more for her sake.

Allura and Shiro said that Lance was the quickest to bond with his lion, but none of them had considered that he wouldn’t be able to bond with Red.

And that got Lance to thinking. What if it wasn’t just Red?
What if he didn’t even have a bond with Blue? Not a real one anyway, not like the other paladin share with their Lions. What if Blue wasn’t his lion in the first place, that he was never meant to be a Paladin, and was simply chosen to ferry the real Paladins of Voltron to the Castle Of Lions.
Maybe Allura was the real Blue Paladin, and another would take the mantle as Red Paladin, leaving Lance to be nothing but an ornament on the shelf, his only use to collect dust.

Maybe Lance really was useless.

The uncontrollable urge welled up inside him. Like the tide of the ocean; unstoppable and powerful, it soaks into his mind, dousing every flickering flame of hope, drowning his mind with nothing but the same, suffocating thoughts.

And there, resting in his hand, as if simply waiting for him, was Keith’s dagger.

The edge was sharper than glass; the lines left longer, and deeper without the painful sting of torn flesh. But it is with pain that brings retribution, and Lance’s hand presses hard, the wounds deepening with every strike, for every dark thought that bleeds into his mind like the blood that bleeds from his arm.

They begin, uniform in both depth and length, a momentum to the need not to dig too deep to destroy, not too long to let them see fresh, new, above the icy white of past mistakes. Past regrets. Past failures.

Lance’s life was never meant to turn out this way.
He was supposed to grow up, happy and healthy, be it Altea or Earth or any other planet where someone could love him for who he was. He was supposed to make friends, close friends forever, and those that will come and go. He was meant to figure everything out, discover his purpose, find his place in the world. In the Universe.

The more Lance adds, the less care he gives to where the marks land. Some cross over one another, some barely offer rose petals while others open up like flooded rivers.
Good.

He continues, long after rain begins to fall.
It starts lightly at first, dripping down his cheeks and framing his face.
The red of his arm caught rain and trickled into the emerald spears of grass beneath him, the faults and a thousand mistakes staining the ground. It’s a strange feeling of pain and relief, mixed together as all the weight, all the hurt, all of his faux pas’, his faults fade away…

All of them trickle down his arms, in stains of red, washed away by the rain like they never existed in the first place.

Maybe this time, Lance can fade away with it all, into memories and a remembrance much sweeter than his own existence.
Maybe then, he would stop hurting.


Keith was quick to learn that Venris only differed between hot, sticky heat and torturous rain.
He hated both weather patterns, neither being better than the other. But hot sticky heat didn’t wash away Lance’s footprints. So maybe there was an easy choice to which Keith preferred, in this moment at least.
But the weather wasn’t his to command and he had no choice but to trek through the jungle, weighed down by his wet, heavy fur; the constant flicking of his ears to rid them of the droplets where they irritated him where he was most sensitive.
His nose can’t push past the constant wet of rain, the stale, dead grass, the earthiness of wet mud, the sharp-striking-metal of blood—

Blood.

Keith catches the scent on the low, weak-willed winding breeze from somewhere to his right, just beyond the curving of Lance’s footsteps where he has come to a dead end and backtracked for an easier route to wherever he had been heading.
Keith can’t help himself but push faster, his eyes scanning the ground, the trunks, even the lower branches of the giant trees for a smear of blood that isn’t his or Lance’s, but hopefully instead a scavenger that had found its food in the form of another.

With every step, the copper-scent grew in strength, pulling deep at the instinct of Keith.
Prey, something old and ancient told him. Hurt said another, but Keith ignored the thirsting in his throat, pushing past the veil of steady-coming rain, the entangled roots as he chased the trail of blood deeper and deeper into the jungle, until trees parted and grass blanketed the earth.

And there, just beyond the canopy shade, the Altean sat upon damp grass.

Blood surrounded him.

“Lance!”

Lance looks up, rain and tears upon his face, his scent damp as much as the boy himself, sitting there.
There is no familiarity to the surrender of his being when Keith can grab his hands, ducking down into his personal space to search for the wounds that bleed sluggishly. There are many of them, cut into his left wrist, sliced long and sharp down his forearm where claws have caught unguarded skin and split it open to reveal the ripeness of fresh blood underneath.

Keith doesn’t recognise them as scavenger’s talons and it worries him that there is another that hunts upon this planet; deadlier than Treecreepers, more viscous than the roamers and scavengers that would have already picked up on the scent of fresh blood, already on the hunt—

“Lance, where is it?” Keith asked, trying to not focus on dead eyes that don’t really see him, ignoring the fear of venom, reaching down for his mother’s knife to arm himself, already bloodied where Lance has defended himself against whatever that has found him, hurt him, bled him—

“Lance? Where is it? What is it? Did you get a good look, did you see where it... went...?”

But there is no trail of blood that leads away from Lance, no grass crushed underfoot where the fleeing of the beast has marked its trail.
There is nothing more than his own blood upon the Keith’s blade, and the marks aren’t claw-like but blade-like—

Understanding returns to the other, Lance trying to pull his hands away, but Keith just holds on, an iron grip that doesn’t hurt. Just holds still. He’s staring at Lance’s arms, both of them, trying to understand why he hadn’t considered it before.
He’s already seen the marks, thought them to be battle wounds and nothing more, never for once thinking the marks too clean, too precise to be anything more than a scar by his own hand.
A torturer wouldn’t leave anything so clean.

Lance’s forearms, underneath the blood and the fresh wounds, were pale already-healed scars where blades and knives had already left their mark. Some are neat and parallel; uniform as they stand in rows of four, with another striking through them, holding them all together as if they stand for something.
But they do, all of them. Even the rough, jagged scars that draw marks from wrist to elbow and beyond the tight-weave suit of Lance’s under-armour.

They all hold a purpose; the many, many scars interlinking, until one was hard to tell from the other.

“It’s nothing,” Lance mumbles, eyes tired, voice drunk with exhaustion. His eyes are red-rimmed, hurting, rain mixing with tears as they rush down his cheeks, the light blue marks pale and greying in comparison to the first time Keith had seen them bright upon his cheeks.

“You’re hurting yourself.”

When Keith speaks, his voice is ashen and raspy. He doesn’t understand why, doesn’t understand that Lance is the monster he fights in this clearing, doesn’t understand how Lance could raise blade and tear flesh for… for… what reason?
“Why?” he asks. His voice doesn’t sound normal. Not even to himself.
Keith isn’t even sure if it’s him who asked, but there is no one else here, so of course it has to be him.

“Because,” Lance replies, a shrug of his shoulders, his gaze dropped to the floor where the rain is soaking into his amour. His hair is slick to his head, his fringe covering his eyes, looking more like a kicked kit than Keith ever has.
The rain still falls around them, making it uncomfortable, and the smell of blood is going to draw in all kinds of predators. But Lance doesn’t look like he’s going to be moving anytime soon.

Keith tugs on his arms, mindful of the fresh wounds as he does so. “C’mon, let’s get back—”
“I can’t go back.” It’s an actual sentence this time, but that doesn’t mean it makes any more sense than his “because.”

“Yes you are, you’re coming back so you can fly Red—”
“She doesn’t want me,” Lance says, his head still dropped, fresh tears landing in his lap. Keith pulls him again, ignoring words that don’t make sense in favour of taking Lance back to the safety of their makeshift shelter.
But Keith’s efforts mean nothing to Lance, who lets his body slump, his arms held up where Keith holds them, his body heavy and unmoving. He really means what he is saying, even if the meaning is lost on one as stubborn as Keith.

“Blue didn’t even want me. No one wanted me. Not my parents, not my family, not even Voltron.” He looks up, eyes misting and tear-stained. Keith’s chest tightened, but any comfort he thought Lance asked for is ignored as the Altean continued. “They haven’t come to find me. Even if they did come, it wouldn’t be for me. It would be for Red. They need her to fight this war. They need you too.”
“Me?” Keith doesn’t understand, caught between trying to figure out what Lance is saying and still trying to get him to come with him, back to the cave where he can stop the sluggish bleed that still stains the damp jungle grass.

“You’re Galran, but you’re not with the Galra. You’re a strong fighter. You have knowledge, experience, that could help them,” Lance says, his words void of emotion. Matter-of-fact in nature as he continues, believing every word he speaks.
“You’re useful to them. You would mean something. You’d make a difference in this war.”

“Lance, I don’t—”
“They need you Keith. They don’t need me.”

The boy dropped his head, shoulders, body following suit as he stared at the muddy, blood-stained earth.

“No one needs me.”

And he means it.

He means every word he says, every scar that burns through copper into white, ghosting slices that scream the same words that shatter the rain-soaked silence of admittance.
No one needs me, they say.
He says.

He believes.

“I need you.”

Keith didn’t think before he spoke. It’s like the words were inevitable; some soft, caring part of him needing to stop those tears and see colour back in the boy’s misted eyes.
Keith doesn’t regret the words. He hears them, hears the echo of them, and knows them to be true.

Lance lifts his head, face blank, but perhaps a slight furrow in brow where a question pushes upon his lip, but he’s not quite brave enough to ask.

“I need you,” Keith repeated. Vehement, strong. Truth.
Lance’s eyes widen. Something akin to hope flickers in his eyes, but the grip Keith has on his hands isn’t reciprocated. Keith tugs them, pulling Lance closer, faces mere centimetres apart. “I need you Lance. If it wasn’t for you being trapped here with me, with Red, then I would’ve given up long ago.”

Lance makes to turn cheek, but Keith catches his face in soft, damp paws, brushing away the boy’s fringe so that both eyes stare into one another’s; mahogany warmth and honey gold.

“I need you to fly Red when she wakes, to take us off this planet. I need you to return to Voltron. You’re the Blue Paladin, of course I need you to be fighting by my side when the pair of us take on the Empire.”

Lance closes his eyes, trying to shake his head in Keith’s hold. “I’m not strong enough to be—”
“If you’re not the Blue Paladin, then who the hell was the idiot that chewed a hole through my ship? Who was it that jumped aboard a battlecruiser by themselves, and fought off the ship’s commander for the sake of procuring another Lion?”

Lance smiles slightly, maybe even laughs, but it comes out as a huff of air. “Yeah, that was pretty stupid of me, wasn’t it?”
“Maybe, but it took guts too. The number of friends I know that would do that can be counted on one hand.” He pulled back, dropping Lance’s face but not moving quite out his comfort zone just yet. He held up a paw, a single finger raised. Lance looked to it, his brow furrowing, a question poised on his tongue but Keith spoke first.
“You’re the only one I know who would do that. You’re the only one that could do it, be it your bravura or your stupidity.”

“Hey,” Lance bit suddenly, colour in his cheeks, turning a half scowl on the Galra that was knelt on his knees before him.
Keith couldn’t help but grin. “There we go. There’s the Lance I know.

“Now come on. It’s raining and I’m wet. The cave will be much more comfortable than this clearing and there’s a fire that will help us dry.”
He doesn’t give the Altean any time to argue his words; that hand already gripping Lance’s used to pull the boy to his feet, steadying him where he stumbles for a moment. Keith, still by his side, just moves closer, trying not to let his eyes linger on the slow, sluggish bleed that continues to drip down Lance’s arm where time hasn’t allowed enough for it to heal.
The warmth of blood soaks into his fur; unpleasant as rain, copper-rust against his nose.

He cleans his mom’s knife on the grass at his feet, and again on the leg of his armour before sliding it into the sheath on his hip. Lance looks to it, trying not to let his eyes linger as Keith does with the boy’s wounds.

“I’m not taking it from you. But if we’re attacked between here and the cave, I’ve got two working arms.”
Keith didn’t need to give an explanation. Lance certainly wasn’t looking for one, but he accepted what was said with a slight smile and a bump from his shoulder.

“Thanks. You didn’t need to—”
“I wanted to.”

Which was… true.

Lance was openly grinning now; that familiar, smug smile sat bright on wide lips despite the dull of his marks and the distance in his gaze. Keith pulled back his hand, aiming for the boy’s gut with a half-hearted fist. “Watch it,” he hissed, but he didn’t really mean anything by it, his fist barely scuffing Lance’s chest. He laughed; the noise much more inviting that than his slow, sombre words that cut at himself, just as the blades had, over and over.

“Careful Galra. Anyone would think you’re going soft.”

They walked in comfortable silence, Keith lending Lance support when the trek asked for it, accompanied by many “how the hell did you get this far in the first place?”

Still, Keith continues to watch over Lance, unable to pull his eyes from drying blood, staring back to the damp trail that will undoubtedly draw in scavengers when the rain lets up. Hopefully the rain will wash away the scent they leave, or Lance’s cuts will stop bleeding long before they reach the cave.

“It’s fine. They don’t hurt.”

Ah.
Keith was staring.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—” he stutters, batting the words out the air, hurrying for silence before he could understand his own anger that furrowed his brow when he looked upon Lance’s self-inflicted pain.

But no matter how much he tries to pull his mind away, he can’t. He tries to focus on his footsteps, watching for roots and trip-falls as he takes lead. But Lance stumbles, and Keith grabs him; grabs his arm where blood still seeps and pain is electricity under the Altean’s skin.
“Ah god, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I didn’t mean—”
“It’s fine. It’s my fault,” Lance smiles, pushing off his knees where pain had buckled them, biting lips to stop another cry of pain echoing up between the falling rain. It is his turn to take lead, Keith feeling helpless.
He didn’t realise he had begun to care. He didn’t realise he cared so much.

Why?

Why do you do it?
Why do you hurt yourself?
Why do you let yourself feel this pain?

“Why?”

Lance stops. Stares at his feet. He doesn’t pretend not to know what Keith asks him.

“Does there need to be a why?”
“There’s reason for everything. I’m asking for yours.”

But for Lance, there never really has been a solid why.
Punishment came afterwards, an excuse more than a reason. Meditative he remembers when he first saw blood upon skin and felt release. Not pain, not fear. It was meditative to him like the sea once was. But is that really his ‘why,’ or is it an excuse he’s pulled between blood, scars, water, tears.

The sting of reality presses deep into his arm, his fingers the pressure that grounds him as everyone rushes back around, him, swirling around like smoke, around his ankles, around his neck, over his eyes before it sits, heavy, writhing, upon his chest.

“I don’t have a why.”

“Then, because?”

Because it brings me peace.
Because I deserve it.
Because somehow, somewhen, I’ll deserve it again.

Because the pain grounds me. Because the pain makes me real.

And what if that is all he is.
Pain, in this moment until the next, just drifting like morning dew until another, brighter, warm light melts him into memory and he becomes another body on the battlefield. Another memory in the minds of people who never really knew him. Who would never really know him, because why would he want to show them his scars and his hurt and his pain?

“Because it is the only thing that is real.”

It is Lance’s. It is what he has control over.
The scars feed the thirst for other desires - the coarse of rope, itchy and tight around his throat, the fire of the blade between his ribs, the flow of blood that cannot be stopped until there is no more to pour and he really just was a moment in all things. Now only a memory.

“You are real,” Keith says, because Keith doesn’t understand.
“I exist,” Lance tells him, pushing on, a hand on tree root, steadying himself as dreams crowd his mind. “But I don’t know who I am, Altean or Human. Well, I know. I just don’t want to be.”

Be Altean.
Lose Earth.

Be Human.
Lose himself.

Chapter Text

The silence wasn’t… heavy.

Sure, it was unpleasant and as uncomfortable as the cold of the rocks that dug into Lance’s spine as he leant back against the curvature of the cavern walls.
But it wasn’t heavy. And that was the point.

Lance remains focused on the way that Keith sat hunched opposite him, poking the still-smouldering fire, teasing it into devouring the kindle so they could warm the air and dry themselves from the downpour.
The unspoken questions clogged the air; like smog hanging low, burning Lance’s eyes no matter how much he wiped at them, clawing at the betrayal that bared itself upon his cheeks.

He doesn’t say anything.

Neither does Keith, contrary to Lance’s fears.

He has imagined rejection so often within his own mind that the soft gentle of Keith’s demeanour has him on guard more than all his thoughts of Galra and enemy and threat. He had expected anger should anyone ever catch him in the act of slicing skin, spilling blood and hate into a world that didn’t want him.

But Keith isn’t angry or hurt or accusatory, but instead wary when he approaches, not meeting the boy’s eye when he reaches for Lance’s still bleeding arm. Washed with rainwater and wrapped in a medicinal palm, Keith is gentle with his touches as he works.
He doesn't fill the silence with needless words, or ask Lance to do it for him.

There’s something about the soft, gentle sting underneath Keith’s bindings that bring comfort to the cold cool air of early morning. There’s comfort in the lingering pain, whereas before the aftermath of his self-inflicted punishment only brought dull-stormy-grey-emptiness, tiredness that swamped him, anger still curling his fingers around the cold, cool blade of glass that hadn't done enough, would never do enough, until deep, too deep, too much, too much blood—

Keith pauses at the sight of fresh tears. Lance just turns away, eyes unseeing upon the bleak grey of rain beyond the cave.
It is comfortable, he thinks, wondering if there was really something broken with him if he considered being trapped and injured on a foreign planet with a Galran Commander who could kill him at any chance over just being alone in the dark of his room back on the Castle.

Broken, the word echoes in his mind while rain fills the silence and pain fills Lance’s mind as he cannot help but wait for the inevitable; still unable to accept the comfort given for what it is despite the prickling truth that Keith has not changed in the way he approaches Lance.
Except maybe he’s slower, and more deliberate in the way he catches the boy’s eyes to ask permission rather than vocalise his questions.

Lance appreciates it, nodding his head when Keith moves from his arm to his leg, to where the rock had sliced deep just a few days before. It’s funny how it doesn’t hurt him more than the hurt in his chest, but then Lance hasn’t ever really been able to pay attention to too much at one time.
It’s the Human way of thinking he has adopted so long on Earth. Something that alienates him from the truth that he isn’t… that he is Aerllons, and was never really Lan—

“Does it hurt?”

Keith has withdrawn his touch, worried that he hadn’t been cautious enough and that the fresh tears are his doing when he wraps the bindings too tight.
“No. You’re fine,” Lance says, voice thick with emotion. Keith pauses, nods, and return to covering the cut again. “There are more Soori,” Keith says, a hand offered to help lead Lance closer to the firepit, before searching in their inventory of scavenged food, offering the rest of the remaining leaves. Lance takes them, graciously, while Keith busies himself with restocking the fire so that it can warm the cave and will not burn itself out before he returns from hunting.

Keith has not changed.

Maybe he was one of the few that would never change, accepting all the parts of Lance, accepting him the whole of him, no matter the broken parts. His presence didn’t make Lance feel watched, like he needed a sitter so the idiot wouldn’t keep hurting himself, wouldn’t keep scarring up his body and ruin the image of perfect Paladin the princess preaches daily.
He doesn’t make Lance feel any less for the enemy within his own head, how some moments are harder than others.

Keith has not changed.
He certainly is still stupid enough to consider heading out in the downpour in search of food.

And Lance, who hadn’t thought to invite himself into a fight over such nonsense, is surprised that his hand caught hold of Keith’s when he made for outside.

They both look to their joined hands. Then, to one another.
Keith’s face remained characteristically blank; his expression unreadable. Lance didn’t know what face he was making.
He didn’t understand why he had reached out when he had and why he can’t bring himself to let go….

Slowly, Keith settles himself back down, without saying a word. He sits close to Lance, closer than they had last night when Lance had finally accepted company and the skewered lizard as non-poisonous.
They sit side by side one another, a firm line of touch running from shoulder to knee, but it’s not enough Lance thinks, seeking the familiar arms of his Mama, his brothers and sisters back on Earth.

Later, he would blame the static in his brain for the way he rests his head on Keith’s shoulder, tiredness pulling at damp eyes as he watches the flickering of golden flames pop and crackle along the firewood. Distantly, he feels Keith’s tension bleed into nothing, and the slightest movement of his arm loops around his arm and allows himself to be leaned against more comfortably.

They don’t say anything.

They don’t need to.

They just sit in amiable silence, until they’re not and they’re laid side by side, Keith’s arms curled around Lance who buries himself into the Galra’s chest, feeling fur upon his cheek, surrounded by the boy’s scent and his arms and the gentle rumble deep in his chest.
Keith is asleep, Lance realises, only dimly aware that he had been earlier and will be soon, eyes drifting down, purple fading to black and sleep embracing them both, both far too tired to dream.